SASD teacher retires after 36 years as an educator
Gina Hackworth, who has worked as a special education teacher for the last 36 years, 28 of which she spent with the Sparta Area School District, is now officially enjoying her retirement.
When she graduated from high school, Hackworth wasn’t certain what she wanted to do; she considered becoming a nurse or a social worker.
“I think everybody tries to find their passion when they graduate from high school and even though I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, I always knew I was going to go to college,” she said, adding there wasn’t one particular factor that made her choose to become an educator other than she knew she wanted to help others.
Being born and raised in Oklahoma, Hackworth attended Oklahoma State University, where she graduated as a special education teacher.
“Once I got into special education, I just knew it was for me,” she said.
While in college, Hackworth met her husband, Scott Hackworth, who announced his retirement from WXOW News 19 in October 2020. While her husband was working at a small television station in Tulsa, OK, Hackworth took her first teaching job in Barnsdall, OK.
In the mid 1980s, special education was already in the public-school systems, but according to Hackworth, it looked much different. Back then, she worked in a little trailer that had been set up outside of the school where the special education students from preschool to middle school were all taught together.
“That was a great way to learn about everything my first year of teaching,” she said.
Because of Scott’s job, the couple moved to Missouri shortly afterwards, then Iowa before settling in La Crosse.
“We had just thought that was going to be a stop along the way back to Oklahoma, but then that became home for us,” Hackworth said, adding that they stayed living in La Crosse for the next 29 years.
She taught special education in the Tomah Area School District for one year before accepting a job with the Sparta Area School District (SASD) where she taught for the next 28 years.
She began with SASD at Meadowview Middle School, but due to numbers, she transferred to Sparta High School with the intent to move back to the middle school after one year.
“I fell in love with the high school and I think they fell in love with me too,” she said. “So, I stayed there since I was given that option.”
Hackworth has worked with kids anywhere from preschool age to high school. “That’s always been a joy to have worked with all of those different age ranges,” she added.
For the past few years, Hackworth has also been teaching summer school, working with PreK students.
“It seemed like every time I took a new teaching job, I would be working with a different age group,” she said. Working at the high school level was intimidating to her at first, but she loved to be able to work with the students from freshman year until graduation.
“You get to know the kids and their families really well and you get to develop a wonderful rapport and relationship with everybody,” she explained. “By the time they graduate it’s really hard because they become a part of your life and you’re a part of their life.”
Watching her students graduate was her favorite and most rewarding part of the job and the pride she felt could, at times, be overwhelming.
According to Hackworth, working as an educator is a challenging job as well as a huge time commitment. Balancing the time spent working with students, learning new technology, implementing educational practices as well as balancing a home life has continued to be the biggest challenge for her over the years.
“Nothing ever stays the same. If you go into it thinking you will always do things the same way, you’re going to be frustrated,” she said. “You’ve got to go into it knowing you will always be learning new things and you will never be doing things the same way for too terribly long, because that’s just the nature of education. It constantly changes and improves upon itself.”
Hackworth said she doesn’t know of a single teacher that doesn’t strive to do their absolute best by their students and that teachers always want to create a wonderful learning environment for all students.
Education has changed quite a bit from when Hackworth first started teaching. She said one of the biggest changes has been that teachers used to have much more control over what they taught and how they wanted to present material to their students.
Now, there’s a big push that all classes are being taught in a certain way.
“It’s a good thing, because then the kids have more consistency,” she said. “But it’s also taking away some of the creativity for teachers. But again, that’s the way education is; always changing.”
In a traditional year, teachers go to the classroom, work with their students, the bell rings and the kids get up and leave. But during the COVID pandemic, with virtual learning, Hackworth said kids need so much assistance because it’s much more challenging and teachers are working around the clock developing different types of lessons.
“It’s been a wild ride,” she said describing her final year in teaching.
During her last week of teaching, Hackworth was finally able to have all of her students back in the building, which she said was a wonderful way to end her career.
“It allowed me to get to see everybody,” she said. “I felt a lot of guilt leaving in the middle of the school year, but they found a wonderful replacement.”
Hackworth chose this as her final year for a number of reasons including Scott’s contract coming to an end and an elderly family member back in Oklahoma wasn’t in the best of health.
Hackworth and her husband are now living back in Oklahoma, where they are building a home. They plan to spend their well-earned free time golfing, gardening and enjoying the company of their two sons.
She will miss Sparta as she said of the five different school districts she’s worked in, Hackworth never taught in another district as student-centered and family focused as SASD.
“Without a doubt, I’m going to miss the kids. As teachers, we get so much back. You constantly learn from your students, you stay humble because of the experiences of their lives,” she said.
“I think there’s nothing better to ground you as a human being than working with this group of people who have gone through a lot in their young lives and every day you come home with interesting stories; some really sad and some really encouraging that lift your spirit.”