Retiring teacher reflects on lives she helped change, including her own
By Diana Whittle
After a career spanning 42 years, Kathleen
McLemore, who just retired as a teacher at
Kyrene Middle School, feels she is a lucky
“I estimate that I taught nearly 10,000 students
over the years, and I know that I improved their
“My years of teaching were wonderful, and I’m
especially glad to have served in the Kyrene district,
where I received such great treatment and support
for my programs—whatever supplies or materials I
needed, they were always provided,” she said.
Her career is unique not only in its longevity but
in the diversity of subjects she taught—from social
studies, to English as a second language, to math
and, finally, drama.
McLemore grew up in Illinois and began teaching
there after graduating from the University of
Wisconsin-Lacrosse. Within a few years, she moved
to Arizona and taught ESL classes in the Murphy
School District in south Phoenix, near 27th Avenue
and Buckeye Road.
“The students educated me as much as I did
them,” she recalls of the experience.
“I learned so much about the Hispanic culture
during my eight years of teaching in Murphy.”
During that time, she also earned a master’s
degree in math from ASU because she considered it
to be a marketable degree.
Then, she landed a job in the Kyrene district as a
After a few years, McLemore’s career direction
changed when the drama teacher in Kyrene left,
McLemore applied for the available position and was
“Initially, the school administrators were
surprised in my interest in teaching drama, as I was
known by then as the math teacher,” she said, “But
I did have a minor in theater in my undergraduate
Over the next 10 years, McLemore would enjoy
observing once-shy students transform their
personalities. “It made me happy to see the students
grow right in front of my eyes,” she said.
Drama is one of the exploratory classes at KMS
that students can choose based on their interest; it is
funded by tax-credit donations.
“I particularly like to watch the students respond
to improvisation,” she said. “They do a wonderful job
at expressing their sense of play and imagination.”
Ellen Pope, a 24-year art teacher at neighboring
Waggoner Elementary School, first was introduced
to McLemore as her children’s teacher, then as a
colleague and friend.
“I think few teachers will achieve what Kathleen
has done—being a teacher for 42 years. She has had
such a positive influence on so many students, and
I know to my own children (ages 13, 15, 18), she was
one of their favorite teachers, who they will always
remember,” said Pope.
Pope says that McLemore sponsors a thespian
dinner every year. Knowing it was going to be
her last year of teaching, a number of her former
students came back to pay their respects.
Many students have remained in touch with
McLemore and regularly send her emails and notices
on Facebook. She even was recognized by a former
student while she was on vacation in Italy.
“I was in Florence and a person crossed the street
to say hello to me,” she recalls.
When not teaching, McLemore raised two
daughters, now 31 and 32, and developed a love of
travel, which she hopes to pursue more fully.
“I have lived in Arizona for more than 30 years,
and all I have seen is Sedona and one side of the
Grand Canyon, so I want to visit all the places in this
state. In fact, I have a trip scheduled this summer to
After a long career as an educator, she certainly
has earned the time to do it.