After 43 years in education, including 31 years in Thurston County’s largest school district, Komachin Middle School social studies teacher Myrna S. Day retired on Friday.
“She is just so wonderful,” said Conni Van Hoose, president of the North Thurston Education Association. “She’s just the heart and soul of everything.”
How much did Day enjoy teaching? She points to an attendance record that was so strong, she ended up with more than a year of sick leave on the books, far more hours than what she’s allowed to cash out.
“I never once pulled up to the parking lot and regretted coming in,” she said.
Often lovingly referred to as “Mama Day” by her students, she maintained a reputation of being a “strict but fair teacher,” according to Tara Hasler, 14, a ninth-grader at Timberline High School in Lacey, who stopped by Komachin last week to congratulate Day on her retirement.
“She always made sure we had our work done,” Hasler said.
Fellow social studies teacher Lydia McDaniel-Smith believes the key to that was Day’s old-school approach to student responsibility: Any student who missed an assignment or perhaps fibbed about not knowing there was homework to complete was forced to call his or her parents from school and make a confession.
“She is on top of that,” McDaniel-Smith said with a chuckle.
It was a practice that taught students to be more accountable for their work — but also reminded parents that middle schoolers are young and still need their involvement, Day said.
“It’s a tickler for parents,” she said.
Day grew up in Baltimore, and was inspired by her second-grade teacher to pursue a career in teaching.
“I looked up to her,” Day said. “She was just like my mom. I wanted to dress like her. I wanted to be like her.”
Day earned a bachelor’s degree in special education and elementary education from Coppin State University in Maryland. She later completed a master’s degree in special education at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.
Her husband’s job in the Army took them around the world. She taught in public schools in Maryland and Kentucky, and Department of Defense schools in Germany.
In Kentucky, she was the first person of color to be hired as a teacher in the school district where she worked. It wasn’t easy, but she said it was a valuable experience that helped her make a difference in the world.
“I was there for a reason,” Day said.
She also was one of the first minority teachers in North Thurston Public Schools, which has become South Sound’s most diverse district.
One of Day’s dreams was to create a districtwide cultural and diversity festival.
She teamed up with teachers and parents on the district’s Multicultural Advisory Council to establish the the event in 2008, according to Karen Eitreim, who oversees diversity issues for the district. It eventually grew to become the city of Lacey’s annual Ethnic Celebration.
“That partnership is just one of Myrna’s lasting legacies,” Eitreim said.
Day said she’s leaving education now so that she and her husband, who is retired from the Army and the U.S. Postal Service, have time to travel and enjoy retirement. She said she’s looking forward to being more active in their church, and hopes to remain active in education, in one form or another.
Day said she’s excited about retirement, but will miss her favorite parts about teaching: her coworkers, students and their families.
“This was never a job,” she said. “It was a career of love and I’ll just never forget them. I feel blessed to have them in my life.”