Teacher retires after inspiring students for four decades
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Imagine being a teacher who so inspired students that some pursued careers in education and returned to her school to work alongside her.
And then consider a physical education teacher who motivated kids to exercise in the South Florida heat, and saw some of them grow up to become professional athletes.
That teacher is Karen Baumholtz, and at the end of this month, she hangs up her whistle for good.
“This is just the most beautiful thing,”
Baumholtz said during a surprise retirement party on June 2 at Miami Lakes Middle School.
Baumholtz, 64, of
Pembroke Pines, has been in classrooms and on athletic fields for 43 years.
“I’ve had kids whose grandparents were my students,” Baumholtz said. “My career has truly gone full circle.”
Educated in Ohio, Baumholtz taught seven years in that state before moving to Florida and
Miami Lakes Middle School.
That was 35 years ago. She leaves as department chair and head of activities.
Her reputation is as an honest, caring and maternal figure.
She is known for telling kids what they needed to hear.
“She can say things that you’ll accept that will help you improve your life,” said Tracie Pullum, a former student who is a language arts teacher at MLMS.
Another thing about Baumholtz?
“She has a heart, and she cries easily,” Pullum said.
The waterworks flowed off and on after Pullum organized the surprise retirement celebration.
A table decorated with balloons and signs set up alongside the bus lane was burdened with gifts from colleagues, some of whom had also been Baumholtz’s students.
Principal Maria Medina called Baumholtz “a true professional.”
Reading from a proclamation, Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid declared it was Karen Baumholtz Day.
Councilman Luis Collazo said, “Doing anything for 43 years is quite an accomplishment. But when you have to teach a bunch of middle schoolers, I think it’s more of an accolade and speaks to your accomplishment.”
Baumholtz is a substitute teacher at MLMS.
He said of his mother, “She’s stern, but she can remember kids’ names from 40 years ago. They come back [to visit] all the time.”
Among those she stayed in touch with: kids who once ran around Optimist Park and grew up to get paid to sweat.
Phoenix Suns assistant coach Steve Blake, who was part of the University of Maryland’s 2002 NCAA championship basketball team and played for eight NBA teams; Devin Bush, Sr., who played for
Florida State’s 1993 national championship team and in eight seasons in the NFL, and Alex Ochoa, a sports agent and former right fielder who played for six MLB teams, including the Anaheim Angels in 2002 when they won a World Series ring.
Ochoa also played pro ball in Japan and was a first base coach for the Boston Red Sox.
“I always think of her like a uniter,” said Ochoa, who lives in Miami and graduated MLMS in 1988. “Someone who is not only awesome at what she did with us as young people, but also always continued to be in contact with us through the years, giving us encouragement to fulfill our dreams.”
He said when his teams played against the then- Florida Marlins, Baumholtz attended his games.
“She’s a great person,” Ochoa said. “I used to love her as a teacher and being in her class.”
So what are
Baumholtz’s secrets to getting kids to listen to her?
In the old days, homemade baked goods and hugs helped.
Those tactics are frowned upon now, but Baumholtz said, “When somebody plops into your arms in tears, I couldn’t turn them away.”
And there can be a lot of crying in middle school, especially with sixth graders who have to adjust to having multiple teachers and classrooms.
“They needed someone to be there for them,” Baumholtz said.
She also drew upon her own upbringing. Her mom taught physical education and her father played professional baseball and basketball.
“I grew up with tremendous structure,” she said. “We had schedules. We had rules. And you had to hold your own, work hard in the home and help out.”
So with students, “I loved ‘em first and then made them tow the line,” she said. “There are always consequences [for misbehavior] but those have to be fair.
“And I never spoke to a child any differently than I want to be spoken to,” she said. “Yelling and screaming at middle schoolers will shut them down.”
Baumholtz also relied on reinforcements.
“I always made a point to establish a positive relationship with my students’ parents,” she said.
That included frequently sharing photos of their children playing sports, and texting a lot.
“Who doesn’t love seeing pictures of their kids or knowing that someone else loves their kids?” she said. “I rarely had parent conferences because they already knew what was going on.”
Over her long career, communication with students’ families “worked for me,” she said. “It took a little bit extra effort, but it made things easier.”
She said she will miss “my daily routine being with the kids. And I will miss my co-workers. I won’t miss being in the sun or my life being dictated by bells.”
Come July, Baumholtz will have more time to garden, swim and travel.
As she talked about her years as an educator and thought about all of the children whose lives she helped shape, she said, “I guess I did something right.”