Head of Beginning School Hannah Whitehead Announces Retirement

By Lauren Fogelstrom ‘15

Hannah Whitehead has been part of the Catlin Gabel community even before she started teaching here. As a parent of previous Catlin Gabel students, she volunteered as a substitute teacher before being hired as a first grade teacher in 1982.

“I loved it. I mean, teaching kids to read was just so fun and exciting,” Whitehead commented about her time in the Lower School.

However, after a few years she transferred to the Beehive to work with Peg Watson as an all-day kindergarten teacher. Whitehead taught her class in the Cottage for eight years, before taking a short leave of absence. When she returned to Catlin Gabel, she worked with English teacher George Thompson in the Middle School. She worked closely with him for a couple years, and when an unexpected job position for the sixth grade became available, she took it.

Whitehead taught both science and history in the sixth grade for 15 years, and had an incredibly positive influence on many students throughout her years in the Middle School.

Hannah Whitehead in her office in the Beehive. (Photo by Lauren Fogelstrom)

Hannah Whitehead in her office in the Beehive. (Photo by Lauren Fogelstrom)

“In sixth grade we all wrote novellas about the Civil War, and she personally edited and met with us about our novellas and that was a really unique thing for sixth grade,” commented Emma Marcus ’15.

One of the highlights for Whitehead was working with sixth graders and students in general to adapt to their specific learning methods.

“In my career of teaching, its such an exciting time to teach, because so much is being learned about how people learn, and how brains work, and trying to take that science and apply it to a classroom of learners” she explained.

Throughout her career at Catlin Gabel, she has aided individual learning styles in several ways. In the sixth grade she introduced squishy pads into her classroom for students to sit on who couldn’t sit still. In the Middle School, she taught her students four ways of reading (standing up, walking, reading aloud and quietly to yourself). She found that these small changes helped to progressively allow students to grow and learn in their own way.

“Hannah helped me so much, and she’s one of the most patient teachers I’ve had at Catlin Gabel” said Kallisti Kenaley-Lundberg ’15.

Likewise, Marcus commented, “I think she’s a really great person and she was one of my first teachers at Catlin Gabel so she really showed me how much the faculty care about the students here.”

After 15 years teaching in the Middle School, she took over the position of Head of the Beginning School, and has been there since.

“When I first returned [to the Beginning School] it was all my old colleagues, which was really lovely, and my job has been kind of shepherding the transition to the new generation of teachers as people retire” Whitehead said, in addition to serving as the Head of Beginning School.

She plans to retire at the end of this school year, graduating with the class of 2015, and the last sixth grade class she taught.

“One of the things that has meant the most to me is the strengthening of professional development for teachers over the years I’ve been here. It’s gotten to be much more widespread, generous, important, and people understand that if you’re doing the same thing you did 10 years ago, its probably not a good thing” she said.

In general, Whitehead said she’s grateful for what Catlin Gabel has given her, in regards to her growth as a teacher. In retrospect, she hopes faculty members continue to make students feel “supported and appreciated.”

Once retired, she plans to travel during the offseason with her husband, especially to places around Oregon she hasn’t explored yet, but visit Catlin Gabel frequently.

“I wouldn’t want Catlin to stray from its progressive roots, and I wouldn’t want it to be the same when I came back in 10 years” she commented, “If it doesn’t grow and exciting things aren’t being tried, or there haven’t been wonderful failures along the way that people have learned from, I would be really disappointed.”