At 75, ‘I Love the Art of Learning’

Published: March 26, 2007 | 5870th good news item since 2003

Maria Patti just can’t stop teaching.

After serving in the Army, teaching for 35 years in schools in Germany, Escambia County and Elberta, Ala. – and after raising four children of her own – Patti is back in the classroom.

The Pensacola native came out of retirement recently at age 74 to teach fifth grade at St. Michael Interparochial School in downtown Pensacola, where she was a student from 1938 to 1946.

“We’re not surprised that my mother has returned to the classroom,” said Michael Vann, one of Patti’s four children. “Teaching has always been her passion.”

Patti was a teacher from 1966 until her retirement in 2001.

Her passion for teaching was reignited late last year when St. Michael hired her as a substitute teacher to finish out the quarter.

“When I interviewed her, I saw that Ms. Patti had the experience and enthusiasm for teaching,” school Principal Lloyd Kinderknecht said.

“I’m glad that we’ve been able to keep her on as a full-time teacher.”

Patti, too, is excited to be back in the classroom.

“I couldn’t stand the boredom that’s associated with retirement,” said Patti, who turned 75 on Saturday.

“I love the art of learning, and I love children and teaching just seems the natural thing to do.”

Patti has brought with her an old-school, no-nonsense approach in her classroom.

Students have to raise their hands to ask or answer questions and must show respect for their peers.

Her current crop of fifth-graders seem to respond to her tack just as generations of students have before them.

“She teaches us very well, especially when it comes to reading, which is my favorite subject,” Louis Gomez said.

As much as she loves it, teaching was not Patti’s initial career goal.

As a youngster in the 1940s and 1950s, she loved to sing and entertain on the local scene.

“I wanted to be a singer when I grew up,” Patti said.

Patti honed those skills during the Korean War, when she served in the Women’s Army Corps in Germany. She was the lead singer for an Army nightclub band and the only person licensed to drive the band’s truck.

After returning to the United States, Patti thought of becoming a nun and briefly entered a Benedictine Catholic Convent in Cullman, Ala.

But those plans soon were dropped after she met and married James Vann, who worked at the Navy Yard as a plant technician. The couple divorced in 1978, and Vann died in 1987.

Teaching became a new career focus for Patti at the urging of her younger sister, Josie Merritt, who, at the time, was a teacher at a Catholic school in Alabama.

Merritt encouraged Patti to pursue higher education at the University of West Florida, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education.

“I knew that Maria would love teaching because she has a way with children,” said Merritt.

“Maria wants each child she comes in contact with to succeed and reach their full potential,” Merritt said.

Patti’s first teaching assignment took her to St. Benedict Catholic School in Elberta, Ala., where all four of her children also attended.

“I remember when we would all pile up in the car and drive 20 miles each way,” recalled James Vann Jr., who now lives in Virginia.

Her latest teaching stint has even put Patti in touch with former students who have grown up to be co-workers.

Gina Williams is a former Patti student from St. Benedict. Williams now works as a bookkeeper and office manager at St. Michael.

“I was pleasantly surprised when I got her resume for the substitute-teaching job last year,” Williams said.

“Ms. Patti is vivacious and a wonderful teacher and today’s students are going to benefit a lot, just as we did when we were her students.”

Fifth-grader Krysta Moody agrees.

“Ms. Patti is the best teacher in the world. She’s just awesome,” Krysta said.

Published in Teachers
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