“It’s been a great job. I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” Harmon said.
She has been impacting the lives of kindergarten students at the school ever since.
“When I was in college not many people were going into kindergarten [teaching],” Harmon said. “It was a surge in the beginning of kindergarten and knowledge of how important it is.”
Harmon is looking forward to having some “free time” after her retirement. She said she enjoys going to the Cleveland Family YMCA and outdoor activities.
“We (she and her husband) ride bicycles some, hike some, swimming … pretty much anything outdoors,” Harmon said.
Supplies for that first classroom were not all ready on the first day of class, but came in over the first few weeks of school.
“Since it was a new program they were having to order the equipment and bring it in as we started,” Harmon said.
Today, Oak Grove has four kindergarten classes.
“My first few years I always had 25 and many times I had 28 students,” Harmon said. “This year I started with 17.”
She said this smaller class size was possible because of the opening of Park View Elementary School.
Average class size across the state in lower elementary grades has decreased as the optimum class size has been set at 20 by the state.
She said a class size of 28 would be difficult with today’s updated curriculum standards.
Many changes have come to kindergarten classrooms throughout the retiring teacher’s tenure.
“I think with kindergarten changing so much every few years it never became boring or dull,” Harmon said.
Perhaps the biggest change has been the types of students coming to kindergarten. Harmon said in the past kindergarten was often a child’s first experience away from home. Now, many of the children in her class have attended day care or preschool.
“There has been a drastic change in what we have as our curriculum,” Harmon said.
She said the curriculum does not focus as much on social and emotional aspects because children have already developed some of these skills in pre-kindergarten settings.
She said she enjoys watching the children grow while they are in her class.
In the past few years, as many students have gained more of a base of knowledge coming into kindergarten, she has enjoyed watching students develop good reading skills by the end of the year.
“Several children that I’ve taught have become teachers,” Harmon said. “Three of them teach here.”
This year she has at least three students whose parents she taught.
Oak Grove’s kindergarten teachers are a close team, Harmon said, commenting that it is the people and students she will miss most about her job.
“I’ve always had an assistant. That’s one thing that Bradley County Schools has stood by and (it) helped keep our program as good as it is,” Harmon said.
Harmon’s assistant has been Linda Chastain for the past 30 years.
In a letter announcing her retirement, Harmon states, “I am thankful to have had the honor and privilege to work with so many wonderfully gifted, talented and dedicated people at Oak Grove Elementary School and the entire Bradley County School System.”
Although Harmon has spent most of her teaching career at Oak Grove, her first teaching job was as a second-grade teacher in Chattanooga. She spent six months in this position.
“I finished college a semester early, so I could go in January,” Harmon said. “I was there a semester and then that summer I was hired to teach here (in Bradley County).”
Both Harmon’s mother and father also had careers in education.
“My father was an economics teacher, football coach and superintendent when I was growing up in Bradley County,” Harmon said. “Through his influence I always knew I wanted to go into education and be a teacher.”
This desire was encouraged further for her one summer when she worked for a Bradley County Schools summer program.
Harmon said her mother also went back to school when Harmon was a teenager to become a business teacher.