written by Bob Ward,
For years, the Aspen Community School’s longtime kindergarten teacher Annie Teague had made sounds about retirement, but for reasons nobody completely understood, she just kept teaching.
Until the fall day, that is, when she announced to Principal Jim Gilchrist that she needed to take an extended leave for health reasons. We now know that Annie was tending to herself and bracing for a fight against cancer.
For the next four-plus months (aside from medical appointments), Annie retreated to her cabin in Lenado, where her adult children, Emily and August, joined her in a very private and peaceful exit from the world. On March 9, after inviting her longtime school colleagues up Woody Creek Road to say goodbye, Annie died, at 72, in her chosen place and on her own terms.
Emily sent out this message on that day: “Early this morning Annie’s spirit left her body and she is now flying high over Lenado. Annie passed peacefully and gracefully with a heart full of love.”
Of course she did. That’s how she lived and that’s the primary legacy she left at the school she loved. She led by example, and with her heart.
Gilchrist put his finger on it when he explained how Teague, ever meditative and maternal, always requested time to ponder staff decisions about school policy or practice, and that inevitably she would return a few days later with thoughtful feedback.
“Annie took time to reflect on what was the right thing, the best thing to do,” Gilchrist recalled. “To her that always meant what was nurturing for a person’s whole being.”
Over time, Teague would show everyone at ACS how to pause, reflect and choose the most nurturing path. That “extra processing time” is now inscribed in the ACS “meeting norms,” the guidelines that frame staff meetings. Another thing that Teague taught her colleagues is to listen carefully — especially to the kids. That’s not to say the kids run the classroom, but that everyone has a voice.
“One of Annie’s most essential values as an educator and as a human being was that children’s voices are important,” said 1-2 teacher Kristina Weller, who knew Teague for 16 years at ACS. “She would always take the time to let every child be heard in a way that made them feel unique and special.”
And this practice wasn’t reserved for students; Teague treated her colleagues the same way. She was proud of her work, she believed in the importance of teaching, and she always honored her colleagues by listening carefully, speaking thoughtfully and nurturing a kind, respectful school culture. Annie was also firm when she needed to be, but never rude or angry.
Said Gilchrist: “I never heard her raise her voice with anyone … I never saw her do one thing that lacked integrity. This person was uniquely centered.” Gilchrist was awed by what he called Annie’s “sublime grace,” which simultaneously made him feel small and inspired him to be bigger and better.
“She brought out the best in everyone,” said Margaret Romero, who after two years of teaching alongside Teague will now lead the kindergarten classroom. “I feel like I’ve had a gift for the last two-plus years.”
Annie Teague, of course, was part of the Aspen Community School from the beginning in the early 1970s, and her ex-husband Harry designed the original school where classes were held until spring 2015. The old, log cabin-style school was replaced by today’s 21st-century, LEED Gold certified building in time for the 2015-16 academic year.
Weller recalled the day the old, beloved structure came down. It was late August, and the staff was holding a back-to-school meeting when the demolition began. “Annie said, ‘I know we need to get through this meeting, but we have to stop and watch. We can’t just let this happen, this passage. We have to honor it.”
So they stopped the meeting long enough for everyone to watch, cry a few tears for the weathered old school, and observe a solemn moment.
But if Teague was attuned to the deeper currents in the classroom and the school at large — and she was — then she also loved to laugh, dance, dress up for occasions and joke around. Annie Banannie would be the first on the dance floor at a party or fundraiser, and she was one of those people who always remembered a colleague’s birthday and would leave a gift on his or her desk.
Co-workers feel the absence of her mischievous winks, waves and smiles. And how can it be that Petunia, her truck, is no longer parked, night and day, in the driveway?
Needless to say, she was also an inspired teacher — impeccably organized, mindful of every child in the room and always working to integrate multiple subjects and skills into each lesson. And despite teaching for some 50 years, Annie always sought to improve her game through new classes and professional development. Gilchrist said his main job with teachers like Teague is to simply get out of the way.
“In Annie’s class a science unit might start with the question, ‘What is life?’ that would evolve into a lesson centered around plants,” he explained. “Students would grow their own plants in the garden (started by Annie), physically work in the garden, write and illustrate a non-fiction book about plants (using skills from art class), eat food they helped to grow and, finally, grow their own Narcissus plant, which they would give to mom on Mother’s Day. It was never just a science lesson.”
It’s hard to measure the impact to a close-knit school community when someone with the long tenure and soulful influence of Annie Teague leaves the scene. For years, ACS staffers had expected her to retire, but in the end there were no “golden years” of post-employment travel and relaxation. Annie worked diligently at the school she loved, doing her life’s work, right up until the day when she simply couldn’t come to work anymore.
Perhaps that’s exactly how it was supposed to be. School Secretary Cindy Sichel said Annie exemplified the school itself, and steeped everyone — students, parents and staff — in the values and ethos of her ideal learning community.
“So much of her wisdom came from caring about everyone,” Sichel said. “She wanted us to be our best selves — kind, smart and skilled. This went for students, co-workers and parents.”
Wherever Annie flew on March 9 from Lenado, she certainly lives on at ACS. When the still-raw ache of her absence subsides, ACS will remain a school community that is richer, smarter and heart-driven, owing to her innumerable contributions.
“She left us with the skills,” Sichel observed. “Now we need to act with them in all aspects of our lives. We want to be the people Annie believed in.”
Thank you to those of you who have donated to ACS in honor of Annie Teague. If you would still like to make a donation, click on the donate button on the newsletter homepage or go to discovercompass.org