Longtime Ruder Elementary fifth-grade teacher Cathy Spencer was recently honored with the Gold Star Award, a KCFW-TV award that honors local teachers.
Spencer has been a teacher for 33 years — 18 of them in Columbia Falls, primarily in fifth grade. She’ll retire at the end of the school year, she said during an interview last week.
Spencer grew up in Opheim, a little town in eastern Montana outside of Glasgow. She was one of seven children and an excellent basketball player, leading little Opheim, which has a population of less than 100, to its first run at a state title in 1979, where they took second.
Spencer went on to play for the University of Montana Lady Grizzlies, recruited by then coach Robin Selvig for four years.
Her father Myron was a postmaster and farmer and her mother, after she raised seven kids, went back and got her master’s degree and became a therapist at Shodair Hospital in Helena, Spencer said.
Spencer has brought that family work ethic to her classroom for decades.
She said kids really haven’t changed much over the years.
“Kids are great,” she said. “Kids are kids. They can do whatever you ask them to do.”
As a teacher, her philosophy is all about progress. She recalled a girl she once taught that was in tears because she was failing math. With encouragement and help, the girl went on to be an honor student and one of the tops in her class in high school.
“It doesn’t matter where they are now,” she said. “It matters where they’re going.”
Spencer and her husband, Bob, who was a longtime health enhancement teacher at the high school, have four grown children, Tim, Callie, Cami and Megan. Callie was a standout basketball player in high school.
She said it was nice to be recognized with the award, but said it could have gone to any of the teachers in the school.
Her advice to new teachers heading into the profession?
“Build a community with your kiddos,” she said. Building relationships with students is paramount to success, she said.
“That’s what makes teaching fun,” she said. “You’ll get hugs from all your old students.”