Shirley Brunk is retiring at the end of this school year.
“I just thought, ‘Forty years — that’s a good place to stop,’ ” says Brunk, dean of students and full-time fifth grade teacher at Hubbell Elementary in Des Moines.
oing into teaching was the right fit for Brunk, who has always liked working with kids and learning. She attended Grand View and Drake universities, and began teaching right after graduating from Drake in 1973.
Brunk taught at Elmwood Elementary (now closed) in Des Moines for six years. She’s been at Hubbell for the last 34, teaching mostly third to sixth graders.
“I knew my heart was always in teaching and being with the students, so I didn’t venture far out of the classroom,” she says. “I like to hope that I’ve really been able to influence students to be their best, whatever that may be and to do their best in life and keep learning.”
There have been instances where she’s learned she has made that impact in students’ lives. Some former pupils have come back to let her know that they graduated, despite worries they wouldn’t. Brunk says several have told her, “You helped me want to become a teacher.”
Hearing such stories from former students is an experience that is “kind of powerful,” she says.
A major change over the years has been the impact of technology in schools and homes, Brunk says. One of the biggest challenges is trying to keep students motivated and engaged in learning at school, where they may not have access to as much technology as they do at home.
But most things about kids themselves, she says, haven’t changed.
“They still have that desire to learn, the desire to be listened to, the desire to share what they know,” she says.
It’s the kids — their smiles, their hugs — and her teaching colleagues and friends, that she’ll miss when she leaves.
Yet when she walks out the school doors on her last day, it likely won’t be for the last time. She may return to do “a little subbing, a little volunteering,” Brunk admits.
Goodbyes aren’t her style, anyway.
“I never say goodbye,” she says. “I always say, ‘See you later.’ ”