St. Joseph fifth grade teacher Linda Hamel has been teaching for 30 years. She remembers her first day well. It was January 4, 1988, and she was sitting with her new fifth-grade class at St. Mary’s in Kalamazoo waiting for Mass to start.
“I was so nervous,” Mrs. Hamel said. “The very first song they played was “Be Not Afraid”, and it calmed me right down. I guess I’m meant to be here.”
And “here” has always been the fifth grade, which Mrs. Hamel has taught for all but four of her 30-year career – 18 of those years at St. Joseph.
“I like the age of the kids because they’re still children, but they are old enough to carry on conversations and have opinions,” Mrs. Hamel said. “In a Catholic school, especially, they’re pretty spiritual. They’re just starting to realize about being kind to their classmates and the importance of that. I really like their state of mind.”
On January 4, 2018, Mrs. Hamel was sitting with her fifth-grade class waiting for Mass to start. What she didn’t know, was Mass was being said for her.
“We ask in a special way, that God bless Mrs. Hamel as she celebrates 30 years of teaching,” eighth-grader Alexis McCullin said during the introduction. “We want to celebrate Mrs. Hamel’s dedication and zeal for teaching about God to hundreds of young people in the Diocese of Kalamazoo.”
The St. Joseph staff had been planning this Mass since school began. They arranged for Mrs. Hamel’s husband to come to Mass. Eighth-grader Elaina Patrick Hines presented her with flowers and Fr. Jose gave her a blessing.
“That’s why I love these people,” Mrs. Hamel said. “They always surprise me.”
After Mass, the celebration continued with pop and donuts for the entire fifth grade.
“They must think I’m a super-teacher to give kids pop and donuts at 8:30 in the morning,” Mrs. Hamel said with a laugh.
But they do think she is a super-teacher.
“We’ve been very lucky to have her,” St. Joseph administrative assistant Lee. Papke said. “She’s a wonderful teacher and person.”
“Mrs. Hamel is well respected by students, parents, and staff,” St. Joseph School principal Sara Myers said. “She is always willing to try new things to make sure her students are getting what they need. We are so blessed to have her in our St. Joseph family.”
“I have known Linda since the early 90s when she taught at St. Mary’s,” St. Joseph Middle School theology teacher Don Shafer said. “She is a wonderful person and a very dedicated teacher of the Faith.”
Part of that dedication comes from the joy teaching brings Mrs. Hamel.
“You know what a good day is for me?” Mrs. Hamel said. “It’s not when everyone had paid attention and turned in their homework. It’s when I solved a problem for the kids or told them something that excited them. It makes me feel good, like a real teacher.”
A real teacher – 30 years and counting.