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Enriching young minds

Angie Cofield likes to say that she has been a mother to hundreds of children. And after 10 years as a kindergarten teacher at Andalusia Elementary School, she just might be right.

“We have to be very understanding of the fact that a parent is bringing us their baby,” said Cofield on Wednesday morning as she prepared for the start of school Monday. “We take time to put them in our laps, and assure them that they’re safe and secure. You have to let them know that you’ll take care of them, just like Mommy does. So, in a way, you become almost like a second parent.”

Cofield said she began her working career by spending 12 years as a banker, but felt like something was missing in her life. She returned to school to study early childhood education, and has since spent 18 years as a teacher in the Andalusia City Schools.

“My love for children had always been there, so I knew something was missing when I was a banker,” she said. “I decided I wanted to be a teacher at this age, because the children are so loving, so caring, and will give you nothing less than 110 percent. They come to you as almost blank slates, but their brains are like little sponges and you can just watch their growth throughout the year.

“It’s just a miracle at the end of the year, when you’ve taken this child who came in at the start of the year and maybe didn’t recognize their own name, but now they’re reading books.”

Monday, Cofield will welcome her 11th kindergarten class, and said that the first day of school is always a day of both excitement and sadness.

“We have some tears, but maybe not as many tears as we used to see,” she said. “We probably see more tears from the parents than from the children, actually. But you know how kids are, each week they get a little more used to it and then they’re glad to be here and it’s a real exciting time.”

Cofield said much of the first few weeks are spent trying to teach her students about rules and routines. She said the first few days at AES are intimidating for any child, even for someone who has already spent a year or more in a preschool program.

“It’s a huge school anyway, and it’s even bigger to you when you’re a kindergartner’s size,” she said. “Even the lunchroom can be a big issue, because our students each have a PIN number for the lunch line, and they’ve got to memorize that number and be able to put it into a computer.

“But we get a lot of support from the PTO, and they always have a few extra parents in the cafeteria to help the kids out — show them where to sit, how to open their milk carton, and that sort of thing.”

“The first few weeks are always kind of rough on a kindergarten teacher — we definitely earn our money, and then some,” she laughed.

Cofield said when she first started teaching kindergarten, not as many parents were sending their children to preschool, so kindergarten was seen as a little more of a social time.

“Nowadays, we have a lot of children who are coming in and may already know how to read,” she said. “And even the ones who aren’t reading, they’re right on the verge of it. They’re definitely ahead of most of the kids when I started teaching kindergarten.”

One other way Cofield said her students are more advanced is their knowledge of computers and technology. She estimated that 75 percent of her students come to the first day of class and already have at least some computer skills.

“And some of them know how to use it more than the teacher,” she laughed.

Cofield is married to Eddie Cofield, and they have two daughters, one of whom is also a teacher in Geneva. She is a 1976 graduate of Andalusia High School.

Cofield said she plans to teach for at least seven more years, and she will know when it is time to give up teaching.

“If I get to a point when I just look at the job as a way to get my paycheck, that’s when I know it’s time to retire,” she said. “I still cry every year when my children leave the class at the end of the school year, because it’s like they’ve become mine. My husband will tease me at the start of each year and say, ‘well, we’re getting 18 new children,’ and he’s right.

“Whatever I would want done or taught to my own natural children, that’s the same thing I’m going to try to do for the children in my classroom.”