In this feature, we tap into one of our region’s rich resources — retired teachers.
“Once a teacher, always a teacher,” says Armida Guerena Bittner, last December, shortly after her 80th birthday, She was holding her book club members captive through a full reading of “She Persisted,” a gift she planned to give her great-granddaughter.
Armida was born and raised in Globe and had always wanted to be teacher. But she wasn’t a good student. She didn’t graduate. By age 16, in her junior year at Globe High School, Armida Guerena married Ross Bittner, pregnant with their child. By age 19, she was mother of three.
“I come from people who know they’re going to work,” says Armida, granddaughter of Mexican immigrants. “If you want something, you have to work for it. Ross and I learned this. “
Ross, grandson of German immigrants, worked hard at the mines, in construction, for the highway department. Armida worked at the courthouse. She took correspondence courses from the Department of Education and earned a graduate equivalent diploma (GED).
“My proudest achievement”, says Armida, “is that I finished high school.”
The Student Becomes a Teacher
As her children grew into adults, Armida returned to school. She took summer courses at N.A.U., classes at Thatcher Community College, and carpooled with other students to ASU. She earned a B.A. degree in Elementary Education and an Arizona teaching credential. She did her student teaching with Kindergarteners at Centra School. After that she was offered a job at East Hill School. Her classroom was on the third floor; her students were fourth and fifth graders.
“I learned more from them than I ever taught!” she proclaims. “I learned that you have to be open. You have to be personable and personal with them.”
Favorite Subject? Language Arts
The principals at East Hill were very busy and Armida loved the freedom she had in the classroom. She’d often put aside the prescribed textbook and use jokes and riddles and songs with her students. Together, they read the newspaper and the works of C.S. Lewis. She encouraged students to read to their interests, read for knowledge. She was always buying books she thought the kids would like, and built a wonderful collection.
“My husband accused me not ever earning a cent as a teacher because I bought so many books. “
Some student favorites were Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings and Bridge to Terabithia. If a student didn’t like a book, or an assignment, Mrs. Bittner was open to negotiate an alternative.
“Check it out. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you, and we can discuss it, and I’m going to try to help you finish it,” Armida explains. “If you don’t want to finish it, you’re going to have to do something else.”
“This is life,” Armida continues. “You have choices. But there are some things that have to be done.”
1Favorite Lesson Plan: Reporting on Public Speech
“You are going to have to speak in public,” declares Armida. “At some point in life, you will need to express yourself.”
Armida’s made students practice expressing themselves in Language Arts class. She remembers how one boy, once a problem, but ultimately her favorite student, took to the assignment.
“He would sing and dance, or take a book out, he would read and pronounce everything just right,” she says with a broad smile. “He loved it.”
She also taught her students to take notes and assigned them to be reporters at a public event, recognizing outstanding educators and volunteers.
“This helped students see the usefulness of the skills they were learning,” Armida says.
2Life Beyond The Classroom
“I used to have so much fun,” Amida muses, then adds, “Except for the toilet situation.”
The restroom for teachers was on the first floor, and after several years of running up and down three flights of stairs, Amida decided it was time to move on. She became County Schools Superintendent, held the position for 12 years and served a term on the AZ State Board of Education.
As Superintendent, she implemented a program to effectively address bullying and physical violence at Miami High, and started an alternative school for kids out of juvenile detention with nowhere to go. After losing her last election, she retired and cared for Ross, until his death in 2009.
Armida uses a walker now. Her kids took the keys to her car. Still, she stays involved with her church, supports youth theatre, watches over Globe from her hilltop home and holds a strong connection to her family, past and present. She has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, with one more on the way.
At some point she gave her book collection away to a teacher friend who asked for them. There’s a wisp of conflicted regret when she mentions it.
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.