By Mara Certic
Bethany Deyermond has retired this year after a 30-year career teaching in Sag Harbor. She discusses her career and her plans for the future.
How and why did you start teaching in the Sag Harbor School District?
I started in this school system when my son was in kindergarten. They asked me to volunteer at the “learning stations.” Women who were working at that time asked me to teach there. That really got my foot in the door. Then I became the first teaching assistant to actually be in the classroom—before they were all in the reading room. I spent 25 years at the school in my own classroom—I taught second grade for maybe three years, but I was able to teach third grade for most of my career. I think the emphasis on local history was a part of that, and that’s why they kept me teaching third grade.
Why do you feel it important to teach third graders about the local Sag Harbor history?
I was born and grew up in Sag Harbor. An ancestor was a whaling captain in Portugal who came over to Sag Harbor in the 1800s. When my parents bought our house that we live in now I was 3. I left a few times for college and when I was first married, but otherwise I’ve always been there. In third grade, the big question that we all have to answer is how organisms change over time—be they plants, people, communities—and all those connections, and that just lends itself beautifully to Sag Harbor history. I love connecting, and we were here from the very beginning of this country. We walk around the village, and I get to teach students all about the history around them. Wegwagonock was the first settlement here. The hill was dug out and that dirt was put on Main Street. There’s a rock now, which shows where it was. When I was growing up no one even knew about Wegwagonock. These kids are becoming part of history.
How else did you try to interest your students in local history over the years?
We made it a big part of the curriculum. I started what I called Nickelodeons which were set up like a timeline. We’d start with the Chief of Wegwagonock and then go all the way through to the first female mayor of Sag Harbor in the 1950s. The kids each got to play one of the historical people. We took three-sided boards, cut out a TV screen and sat it on their desk. We’d give out checkers, and as soon as the checker was put in the television’s slot, the historical characters would start taking and telling them about their lives and what they had done for Sag Harbor.
What are you most proud of in your career, and what will you miss the most?
Nancy Remkus, Nancy Stevens Smith and Laurie Devito and I were all part of the school in 1993-1994 when it became a New York State School of Excellence. Now that we’re all leaving there is maybe only a small handful of those teachers still there. Also, as a pilot program, I was asked to do the very first inclusion class; where there was a special education teacher working right in the room with me. We would all get together and plan and get the kids together. I think it’s been pretty successful. I think mostly, when I think about this stuff, it will be the people that I remember and miss. Whether it be the people I worked with, the parents, the students. The kids, you know. Just not seeing them all every day. It’s been a great experience. Once my retirement was announced, I would walk down Main Street and people would come up to me, parents, students, former students. When I think about everything, what I’m happy about is that there have been a lot more happy-ending movie moments than there haven’t been. There have been so many little things.
Do you have any plans for retirement?
I’m going to do some work with the Sag Harbor Historical Society to try and keep doing something for the children. Our daughter lives in Texas so we have a trip planned there, and we’re going to take a river cruise in France for our 40th wedding anniversary. But mostly I want to just be for a little bit.