“Get to know the kids, have fun, laugh. Laugh every day.”
Those are Coach Rita Hawker’s parting words of advice to her successor and beautifully summarizes her approach to coaching, teaching and life. After 33 years, Coach Hawker (as she is fondly known), a beloved teacher at Longmeadow High School, is retiring. I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her amazing career as a teacher, coach, and role model at Longmeadow High School.
Coach Hawker began teaching at LHS in 1989. She said she quickly fell in love with the friendly environment at LHS. When asked her favorite part about teaching, Coach Hawker replied, “Interacting with students. I mean that’s what makes my day and that’s what makes all of this remote stuff so difficult.” She spoke highly of her past and present students, and even through a Zoom call it was easy to see how much she cares about the kids at LHS.
Teaching during a pandemic is extremely challenging for teachers, and quite sad in a retirement year. “That’s been really hard for me, by the nature of what I do, I’m used to being with students, and kinda, you know, bantering back and forth and talking with them,” she explained. “A lot of students aren’t even coming into the building at all, so I just feel like I’m never going to get a chance to really get to know them.” As I’m sure so many people during this pandemic have experienced, it’s really difficult to get to know people on a short video call, but, as Coach Hawker states, “change is inevitable.” After this school year ends, Mrs. Hawker says (with delight) that she is planning to rent a house in Ireland for a month. After travelling, she says, “I’ll be selling my house here in Massachusetts and moving to my house in Maine full-time.”
Coach Hawker said how much she loves and will miss the LHS community. “Everyday you don’t know what to expect with students,” she says, adding, “I’ll miss my colleagues a lot.” Very understandable, because the staff and administration at Longmeadow High School are all such amazing people. Coach Hawker gives a piece of advice to all of her students, past and present: “Just embrace everything that comes in front of you. From an athletic standpoint, if you do some type of clubs, if you’re into music… just take a risk, do things and embrace it. Try it out, and who knows, you might find people that you would’ve never interacted with who have the same interests as you.” Coach Hawker encourages students to try new things and expand their horizons. Luckily, LHS has a variety of clubs and classes that there are options for everyone! Even in the wake of a pandemic, all of the teachers and staff are working hard to ensure that a number of clubs and sports are still available to students.
Another piece of advice from Coach Hawker: wear your mask, social distance, and follow the guidelines even when you’re not being watched. Coach Hawker shares her observations of high school students. “We’re doing it here at school, making people social distance, and then when I see kids outside of school. Tthey have four, five people in the car, they don’t have their masks on. You know, they’re hanging out.” Everybody needs to do their part to be safe to help stop the spread of the virus. I know those who have Coach Hawker this year would love to be able to have even just a few “normal” wellness classes with her before she retires.
Coach Hawker has been an incredible teacher, coach, and mentor over the past 30+ years. She even coached field hockey for some time, as well as varsity softball, boys and girls swimming, and started the volleyball program at LHS! Coach Hawker spoke about how much she adores her job, and the people she got to interact with every day. As we wrapped up our conversation, Coach Hawker shared her parting words of wisdom for the next wellness teacher. “Have fun. At the end of the day, it’s gotta be about having fun. If you don’t have fun and love what you’re doing, it’s going to be miserable for your students.” She adds, “Get to know the kids, have fun, laugh. Laugh everyday.” Speaking from experience, Coach Hawker always makes her students laugh and puts us in a good mood, no matter how tired we are at 8 am.
Coach Hawker has made such a difference at Longmeadow High School and contributed so much to making the community at our school wonderful. From all of the students, we hope you enjoy your last year. You will be greatly missed by all!