Staff photo by Philip Wright
SARAH Hammerle takes a break from tending to her classroom at Oak Creek School. She just finished her first year of teaching at the school, in her mother's old classroom.
There's nothing unusual about a new teacher standing in front of a classroom full of new students on the first day of a new school year. It may be daunting, but it happens at every school, every year. All teachers go through it, and they all remember the day. But few ever face that day in surroundings that feel as familiar as a family reunion.
After all, 27-year-old Sarah grew up in Cornville and attended the same school where she now teaches. That may make some things easier on the first day of school. But it also makes other things more nerve-racking.
Her mother, Marie Hammerle, who passed away five years ago, taught at the school for 23 years. Her father, Rob Hammerle, is still teaching there, after 21 years. Sarah had her mother as a teacher in third, seventh and eighth grades. She was in her father's classroom for sixth grade. Many of Sarah's students have been in both her mother's and father's classrooms.
But Sarah's first day of teaching at Oak Creek School was more than a homecoming. Her mother was dearly loved and respected by family, friends, co-workers and students.
And the brain tumor that caused her untimely death at the age of 46 left a void in the lives of not only Marie's family but also those of nearly everyone who knew her. Sarah didn't know how much people expected her to be like her mother.
"She had a gift in her contact with people that made everyone feel special," Sarah said.
Sarah knew she had many years to go before she could rely on the same level of experience her mother enjoyed. But what she may not have realized at the beginning was that, in many ways, her mother had been preparing Sarah to be a teacher.
"She definitely did have an influence on me this year, consciously and unconsciously," Sarah said.
She said her mother always loved all of her students, but had a special fondness for the kids thought of as trouble makers. Now, after teaching in her mother's old classroom for a year, Sarah has learned that she, too, is fond of the same type of students.
Sarah said that daughters almost always have some of their mothers' mannerism, but she feels that teaching has brought out in her even more of Marie's traits. She said every now and then she'll notice how she is speaking or doing something and realize, "That's a mother moment."
Marie was present in Sarah's classroom in other ways.
"The first couple of weeks was eerie," Sarah said. "I was finding papers and notes of hers. Maybe something about my little sister's soccer games."
Beyond tangible reminders of her mother, Sarah said she could feel her mother's presence in the classroom all year.
"My mom was a remarkable teacher," she said.
Even so, Sarah really hadn't planned on her current career.
"I never thought I'd go into teaching," she said.
She thought she might be a pediatric surgeon.
But after college, Sarah traveled, studied German and taught high school in Austria. Among other jobs, she worked at Snow Bowl as a ski instructor and at the Grand Canyon as a swamper on raft trips. Then a job opened up that would bring Sarah back to Cornville and her mother's old classroom. She said she loved traveling, but it was great to come home.
With her first year of teaching at Oak Creek School now over, Sarah describes the experience as very successful.
"I'm really looking forward to next school year," she said. "I like the age group. I like the school. Without a doubt, I'll be back."
She intends to be back each year, for many years. This is home, and Sarah is happy to be back. She also is happy to have found her passion for teaching.
"I feel like it's an honor to be here, to be able to work in the school I do," she said.
"I plan to teach for life."