"I believe that freeing from the bondage of poverty strengthens and enriches the human spirit. I also believe that education is the level playing field for people of all races no matter what the status of their lives are."
- Linda Augustine, Harborview Elementary School fifth-grade teacher
Any visitor to Harborview Elementary School's fifth-grade class in Room 219 will likely receive a kind "hello" and formal introduction. That's just how longtime teacher Linda Augustine rolls.
"Linda really teaches respect," said colleague Cora Brunette. "She has them greet you, say 'good-bye' and 'hello,' and you're not just someone who just enters her class. You're very honored and shown respect."
Yet Augustine - known best for her respect for culture and diversity, sense of humor, lessons in life skills, memorable speeches and annual pig roast - will retire this year after more than 40 years of teaching.
"I'm really going to miss her," said longtime colleague and fourth-grade teacher Liz Miyasato. "I'm going to miss laughing with her, learning from her."
In her 46 years in education - 24 with the Juneau School District as an English as a Second Language, extended learning and classroom teacher - Augustine has mentored many. To Miyasato, there's really no replacing her.
"She's been more than a mentor, she's been more than a friend," she said. "Linda has been a wealth of knowledge. She's one of the best writing teachers I've ever met. She has so much knowledge, and she can pull from that knowledge for any lesson."
Cora Brunette, an English Language Learner teacher at Harborview, works with many of Augustine's students, and said Augustine is supportive of her students' customs and cultures. Augustine herself is from the Philippines.
"Because she is also a minority, and we have quite a few Filipino children at our school, she's very supportive of them and can speak in their dialect," Brunette said. "She acknowledges that, supports that and celebrates that."
"She has a steadfast, real educational strength. She doesn't teach just the subjects. She also teaches life skills."
In fact, one of Augustine's mottos is Responsible, Independent and Organized (RIO).
But with such a background in education, not including her work as an administrator, and elementary and college instructor in the Philippines, one would never guess that Augustine didn't even want to be a teacher.
"I dreamed of going into chemistry, meteorology or law," Augustine said. "But my family was very, very poor. My dream courses were way beyond my reach."
Yet Augustine's risk-taking sensibilities were the better of her, and she took the entrance exam to the Philippine Normal University - without telling her parents.
"A letter of acceptance sealed my fate to become a teacher," she said. "Now I say, 'Once a teacher, always a teacher.'
"When I'm not grading homework or preparing lessons, I'm still a teacher. I think of my students, who they are and what their needs are. I continually search for better ways to reach them. I talk to them on the phone in the early evening hours, and I chat with them through technology."
What's most rewarding for Augustine is when her students develop into responsible, independent and organized members of the learning community, she said.
Shakira Vallejo, a student of Augustine in 1992, was shocked that one of her favorite teachers is finally retiring.
"She is such a sweet lady, very patient and made sure her kids did the best they could," Vallejo said. "I've always felt most comfortable with Mrs. Augustine."
Vallejo, a Filipino like Augustine, remembers special occasions when Augustine and her husband, Kai, would bring homemade pansit and spring rolls to class.
"She made every student feel as if we were one of her own," she said.
Although she asks herself over and over whether it is time to retire, Augustine always comes up with the same answer.
"My answer is yes!" she said. "It's time to embark on another adventure. Retirement means becoming more self-sufficient, raise the quality food that sustains and improves life, continue fishing (which she enjoys the most), venture into writing, visit new places, meet more people, and many more."
Augustine and her family - Kai; step-son, Shaun; and two grandchildren, Jake, 9, and Zoe, 5 - plan to spend time in Juneau, Hawaii and the Philippines. Augustine is in the process of getting a dual citizenship in the Philippines.
"The future looks very encouraging and full of promise," she said. "We will enjoy the remaining years of our lives by being self-sufficient, travel around Southeast Asia, write children's books, meet people and fish a lot."
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at email@example.com.