ST. MARYS — After 35 years of teaching, 25 of them for the St. Marys City School district, special education teacher Bill Widman has spent his last day in the classroom.
Widman retired after the end of this school year. Not only has the special education field evolved and changed significantly from when he was first in it, but his own teaching career changed a lot over those 35 years. Widman graduated with a master’s degree in health and physical education. His first job was teaching P.E. part-time and special education part-time for the Fort Recovery school district for two years. He later decided that special education was a better fit for him and that it provided an outlet for him to really make a difference in students’ lives.
“I think I struggled in school,” Widman said. “I think that there were some behavior issues, and fortunately for me, I had some teachers and some mentors, specifically a coach who believed in me, and so when I got into that environment thought I could make a bigger difference in special education.”
After that, Widman spent eight years teaching special education and coaching gymnastics in Columbus until a position opened up in St. Marys. Although he didn’t take it, Widman said the superintendent at the time called him back saying that a position at the high school had just opened up and would Widman come back and interview for that one.
While Widman and his wife were in St. Marys for the interview, they stopped at the McDonald’s in town and talked to two or three couples, asking about St. Marys and whether they liked living there.
“They raved about the environment — they raved about what a great place it was to raise your children, and they talked about how supportive the community was in terms of education,” he said. “They had told us, at that particular time, that St. Marys was a place where a levy had never been defeated, ever.”
As Widman and his family were searching for just the right small town to raise their then 2-year-old daughter, they decided St. Marys was it.
In his early days as a teacher, the program in St. Marys was still teaching that group of special education students college preparation, which Widman said some students weren’t interested in.
“In Columbus, it was all about life skills, you know,” he said. “It was all about finding out what they wanted to do and then setting up a program so that they could reach those particular goals. And if it was college, then that was fine, but if it was working as a welder or those particular types of things, then we needed to adjust the program to meet those kids’ needs.”
Now, the school is all about inclusion, or including the special education students in classes with everyone else, as much as possible. There is a team of seven special education teachers there now, Widman said, and the program is much different.
His goal for those 35 years has remained constant.
“I think everybody gets in teaching to try to make a difference, and I think that when you’re in it long enough, you have the opportunity ... to look around and see that there’s lots of kids succeeding,” he said. “The fact is, I was lucky in that I got to work for good people, with good people, with good parents in an environment with good kids. And maybe every teacher feels that way in every environment, but I certainly do here in St. Marys.”
Widman said he plans to stay very busy in retirement, babysitting his four grandchildren in the morning and coaching gymnastics in the evenings. In the summers, he travels to Pennsylvania, where he is an assistant director and gymnastics coach at a summer camp for girls.