LEROY — Pine River Area Elementary music teacher Tiyi Schippers and her pal Root Bear are riding off into the sunset and retirement at the end of the school year.
Ms. Tiyi, as her students know her, turned in her letter of intent to retire last February. Schippers was mulling over the idea of retirement or staying on for another 2-3 years, but after some soul searching and crunching some numbers — she decided it was time to retire.
Then shortly after she submitted her letter, the COVID-19 pandemic started and on March 13 she stood in front of her students for the last time in her career. At the time, the thought was the school closing would only be for three weeks, but something in her gut told her it would be for much longer.
“Intuitively I thought it might be the last time (standing in front of her students). I spent the day communicating with the students,‘ she said.
She remembers her fifth-grade students, in particular, having a lot of questions, as well as concerns. With those questions and concerns, Schippers said she tried to let them know that no matter what happened, she would always love them.
In a time of uncertainty, Schippers said she wanted to offer some reassurance.
“They were excited, but also emotional. They were picking up on the stress of the adults and they knew we had our work cut out for us. That hasn’t stopped,‘ she said.
It’s fitting her career at Pine River is ending amid a global pandemic because it began shortly after another major world event. Her first day at Pine River was Sept. 12, 2001.
Though her time at Pine River is where she spent the most time, her career in education began in 1981 in Chicago. She taught at St. Eugene Catholic School for five years before she moved to the Cadillac area to teach at St. Ann School for five years. While she is retiring as a music teacher, early on she wore many other hats including a kindergarten teacher, art teacher, and middle school language arts, and social studies teacher.
After her time at St. Ann School, Schippers taught at Newland Arts Academy in Manistee County. During her time there she taught art and drama and eventually was the principal.
It was after her time there that Schippers was hired by Pine River Area Schools.
“I stayed there because it is the best place and the best job ever,‘ she said.
As for the future, Schippers is still a member of the Cadillac City Council and in the fall she will release her first book of paranormal memoirs called, “Beyond Brick and Bone.‘ The book is about real experiences she has had with paranormal entities and she said three books have been planned. The next one likely will be released around the same time in 2021, but nothing is certain. She also said eventually she will volunteer at the elementary.
As for her pal Root Bear, Schippers said he will be coming with her. For those who don’t know, he is a puppet who helps Schippers teach her students. Although Root Bear is not vocal, he whispers to Schippers and she relays the message to the students.
“Root Bear will remain my sidekick and he will be with me at children’s concerts and he also continues to eat cookies,‘ she laughed. “I have had the puppet for 25 years and it has been the best classroom management tool.‘