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What started out a job turned into a passion for one local teacher

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Linda Hedges has spent more than three decades teaching little ones at Lafe Nelson Elementary School in Safford. Over the years, she built an extensive library using her own funds.

Linda Hedges has devoted a long time to expanding children’s horizons and helping them learn the value of setting goals.

In 2018, Hedges received a Pride of Safford Award for her efforts in local education. This year Hedges will be retiring from her teaching career.  Although she is feeling uncertain about retiring, she said she is looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren.

Hedges has been teaching fifth grade at Lafe Nelson’s elementary school for 31 years. Although she initially wanted to teach kindergarten and was afraid fifth graders would be taller than her, she quickly decided fifth graders are her favorite.

“They are just the best grade. They get your jokes and then can get back to task,” she said.

Hedges’ journey in education started when her youngest was in kindergarten.

She wanted to be a teacher so she could spend time with her kids when they were out of school, so she took night classes while her husband watched the kids. 

What started out as just a job turned into a passion.

Donna McGaughey, Graham County school superintendent, met Hedges in 1990 when they were both teaching at Lafe Nelson. Together, they attended a teaching class in Maine, and learned many strategies they used throughout their careers.

McGaughey and Hedges taught classes together for three years. Every morning their classes went over current events and sang songs. The classes would do things together, creating its own school education unit within their two grades.

“She continues to light the world on fire with her kids,” McGaughey said.

Safford Schools Superintendent A.J. Taylor taught with Hedges in 1993, he said.

“She is one of the great ones, in my opinion. She puts the kids first,” he said. “She still writes back and forth with her former students. She gets thank you letters from them.”

Taylor and Hedges, alongside several other teachers, combined their classes to do an Olympic competition project.

“We did a whole project based on Olympics and math skills. At the end of the project, we had our own Olympics at Lafe Nelson,” he said.

Throughout the project, the students used their math skills.

“It was one of the most fun projects we did together,” he said. “She has sewn a lot of good seeds. She’s taught life skills for a lot of different lives over the years,” he said. “Even though I hate to see her go, I’m happy for her in whatever her next phase of life is.” 

In 2006, Hedges came up with the Education Travelers program, she said.

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The program allows students to visit historical areas in the United States. Students work with their parents to raise money for the trip and are required  to keep up their grades and research and write papers about their intended destinations.

For each trip, Hedges spends an immense amount of personal time teaching, coaching and planning.

“I wanted to take some students interested in history who love to learn,” Hedges said. “I wanted to take them on the ultimate field trip. I chickened out twice, but eventually I had an informational meeting. When I finally did do it, it was beyond my expectations.”

Before she knew it, her students asked her where they were going for their next traveling experience.

“They have to research everywhere we go. I think it’s a very powerful to show them delayed gratification,” she said.

Many of the children who accompany her on her trips have never flown before. When they visit Boston and other historical locations, Hedges said she can see their visions broaden.

Taylor’s son was able to accompany Hedges one year.

"It’s an educational experience. She gets the kids to earn their own money to go. It’s not directly with the school,” he said.

Today, McGaughey travels with Hedges and the students.

“These are trips of a lifetime for most of these kids,” she said.

The students once laid a wreath at the Unknown Soldier's tomb, she said.

“It brings you to tears. That’s the type of things she does as an education,” McGaughey said. “This is Linda. She believes in lifting kids up as high as they can go. This makes them work for it. Nothing is ever free. She makes sure that they’re recognized and their writing is published. It will be a tremendous loss when she retirees, but she deserves it.”

During her time in education, Hedges said she has learned that being honest is best for children’s development. She has mentored over 50 teachers and she gives them all the same advice.

“Remember you’re teaching children, not curriculum. Let the kid’s ability decide your pace and make sure every kid understands,” she said.

Although she may have had a practical reason to go into teaching, in the end education became her calling.

“Being a teacher defines who I am,” she said.

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