By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A lot of people would quail at the thought of facing 20 or 30 kids first thing in the morning. For Deb Newbauer and Robin LaBrie it's matter of course, and they don't seem to mind.
"It's never boring. I get up every morning and I think how much I love my job and how lucky I am to be a teacher," said sixth-grade English teacher LaBrie.
"I enjoy working with kids," agrees Newbauer, whose No. 15 school bus - better known to students for the blue frog and eagle that grace the window for easy identification - covers about 70 miles a day. "You can see a lot of their personalities. Each one's their own individual."
Newbauer and LaBrie were chosen as the two Havre Public Schools employees of the year this spring - Newbauer as the classified employee of the year, and LaBrie as the teacher of the year. The awards are given out annually after a peer-driven selection process.
"They're a recognition of the best qualities of all the people who work for Havre Public Schools," said Havre Superintendent Kirk Miller this morning. "I believe any time you're recognized by those who work closely with you for doing a great job and working with kids, that's what we're all about."
What's the secret of their success?
LaBrie said her students respond well to lessons that combine a variety of skills and mediums. Her units on "The Wizard of Oz" and "Oliver Twist," which include reading history and fiction, writing poetry and newspaper articles, and labeling sentences, are among her students' favorites.
Beyond the curriculum, LaBrie says something more subtle is needed to be effective.
"You get a feel for what has to be done," LaBrie said. "Call it intuition - I don't know. You can feel when they've absorbed as much as they can take and you need to switch gears. You have to be able to feel what's going on in your classroom."
The Malta native has taught nine years at Havre Middle School, and before that taught at Rocky Boy for six years.
LaBrie said those years of teaching, as well as and her own experience growing up as the eldest of 11 children, taught her not to discount a student's potential based on factors in their background or home environment.
"Anything's possible for these kids if someone just believes in them," she said.
Newbauer has her own prescriptions for dealing with kids.
"Listening to them is important for one thing - listening to what they have to say," said the Chinook native and mother of two. "A lot of the little ones are curious. They're always asking questions about why do you do this and what's this for."
Newbauer transports between 60 and 70 kids every day and learns every name in the first two weeks of school. Since she has driven the same route for the last three-and-a-half of the five years she has driven bus, many of the faces are familiar from one year to the next.
"You get a chance to see this group grow up," she said.
Not always a gentle process to witness, of course, especially for someone who gets to work at 6:20 every morning to inspect her bus and get ready for her route. Newbauer isn't complaining.
"I think at times it could be (stressful). I don't really say it is," she said.
Likewise, some might pity LaBrie for taking on the burden of teaching a notoriously difficult age group, but she says they should put their sympathy with the kids, not with her.
"I see the humor and the trials and tribulations. It's a hard age for them," she said. "Instead of getting angry, if you use a little humor it seems to work with middle school."
Newbauer hasn't lost her sense of humor either.
"That's one of the joys," she said as she stood in the cool shade of the HPS bus garage one afternoon after her route, pointing to a fellow bus driver walking by with cleaning implements in hand. "You get to clean throw-up and stuff too."
"There's days when it's bad," Newbauer admits, but she says she's been lucky with winter roads, only sliding into a ditch once. "It still is a learning experience," she said.
Even with the unknown obstacles of every day, an empty bus on an open country road gives Newbauer time to reflect in the early mornings before her first stop.
"It's peaceful and it's quiet and sometimes you're the only one on that road," she said.
Perhaps Newbauer speaks for both women with her simple explanation of her success. "You kind of know it by heart after you do it long enough."