Diane Fitzpatrick (middle) answers questions from Caribou Community School eighth-graders while fellow panelists Margaret Cyr (left) and Ellen Cleaves look on. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — Visitors to the Caribou Historical Center & Museum this year will hear stories of how teaching was for previous generations.

Caribou Community School’s eighth-graders will create and record podcasts for an exhibit dedicated to the wisdom of local educators. People will listen and learn how teaching has changed through the decades.

To inspire the students, nine retired educators spoke to the class on Monday about their professional lives.

Times change, and so do the ways teachers approach classroom behaviors and lessons. But the group agreed on one thing: You have to love teaching to be an inspirational teacher. And kindness is even more important in a world that has become politically and socially divisive, according to one educator.

Caribou Community School eighth grader Lindsey Ouellette (left) poses with her English language arts teacher Kim Barnes, Barnes’ former high school social studies teacher Ron Willey (second from right) and Willey’s former physical education teacher Dwight Hunter. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

“If I could go back and teach for one day, I’d teach about kindness and respect. I feel bad for your generation who has to deal with a world that’s crass and rude,” said Diane Fitzpatrick, who taught second grade at the former New Sweden Elementary School. “But there’s still hope for you to make the world a better place.”

The museum closed for several years during the COVID-19 pandemic, but its volunteers want to reopen this year with some new attractions drawn from local history. Displays about the Mi’kmaq Nation, Caribou athletic teams, early medicine and area churches are also on tap.

Many teachers in the panel noted just how much things have changed. From blackboards to tablets and TV screens, classroom technology has advanced tremendously.

So has the way people learn about storm cancellations. Before the age of social media, teachers would listen to the radio or TV news. Sometimes they called each other on the telephone.

“We had a list of teachers and we would call everyone on that list until we were done,” said Phil Caverhill, a former teacher and principal at Woodland Consolidated School.

Most teachers on the panel had at least three to four decades of teaching under their belts. But despite popular belief, they told the eighth-graders, their generations didn’t smack students with rulers and paddles for misbehaving.

Denise Levesque, who taught English at Caribou High School for 40 years, remembered the often public ways that her classmates were punished during her younger days.

“We had to stand in the corner if we were caught talking during class,” Levesque said. “There was a bench in the hallway where you’d go if you were kicked out of class. Or you’d write on the board 100 times ‘I will not do’ whatever it was you did.”

Monday’s panel discussion was a personal and professional reunion of sorts for several teachers, students and family members. Eighth-grade teacher Kim Barnes introduced the class to her mother, Ellen Cleaves, who taught in Caribou schools for 25 years.

Fitzpatrick is the grandmother of eighth-grade student Vivian Bell. While Bell has heard her grandmother’s teaching stories before, she is excited to share those tales with the community.

“It’s important to know what they were thinking as they were teaching and how things were for them,” Bell said.

The event inspired one of Caribou’s potential future teachers, eighth-grade student Lindsey Ouellette. Barnes introduced Ouellette to her former high school social studies teacher, Ron Willey, and Willey’s former physical education teacher, Dwight Hunter.

Ouellette said she wants to use the teachers’ advice to become a great teacher herself one day.

“You want to have a smile on your face when you see students in the morning,” Ouellette said.

Caribou Historical Center & Museum volunteer Christina Kane-Gibson said she is excited to include voices of the younger generation in the upcoming exhibits.

The idea for the podcasts began with conversations between Kane-Gibson and her eighth-grade son’s teachers at Caribou Community School. The project is a perfect way to use new technology to teach history, Kane-Gibson said.

“The eighth-graders’ contributions put a new spin on the historical finds we have at the museum,” Kane-Gibson said. “It will bring a fresh perspective.”