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Berkeley High teacher bids farewell

By Katie Flynn, Daily Planet Intern
Monday June 10, 2002

After 41 years of teaching in Berkeley schools, Barbara Hopkins has seen the children change, the district change, and parents change. But when she retires this week, there is one thing she will say has remained the same– her love for her students and how those students have appreciated her class. 

Nearly 150 faculty and alumni of Hopkins' kindergarten and first grade classes gathered in the Jefferson School auditorium Friday night to celebrate her almost half-century of teaching in the Berkeley Unified School District. A slide-show of her life, gifts and honors and even a serenade from parents ended in a standing ovation for Hopkins as she was awarded with the creation of “Barbara Hopkins” day, to be forever celebrated on June 7. 

“Mrs. Hopkins showed me just how much love children need and how you can't give too much praise and encouragement,” said Marguerite Hughes, another teacher at Jefferson. “She also showed me just how much love and support and encouragement parents need.”  

Using phrases like “get your cute little self over here” and “wonderful, wonderful,” Hopkins was able to be authoritative but kind, her alumni said. 

“She has that mothering approach and caters to every child,” said Belinda McDaniel, who was a kindergarten student of Hopkins in 1975. “And even though kids have changed over the years, she maintained that same style.” 

McDaniel experienced Hopkins class all over again when she sent her daughter to Jefferson in 1999. 

“The most surprising thing was that Mrs. Hopkins was exactly the same type of person, sweet and caring,” McDaniel said. 

In Hopkins own reflections, she has noticed striking differences between her first day in front of the class and her last, and can name the reasons why she stuck with the BUSD for so many years. 

“A lot of parents believe and participate in the public school system here,” Hopkins said. “Even if they have the income to go to private [school], they will still send their children to public schools.”  

Hopkins began her teaching career in 1961 with the intent to include parents in the classroom as much as possible. Since then, Hopkins has seen the families in Berkeley change from the nuclear setting to more diverse arrangements. 

Though more complex familiy lives have affected the children, Hopkins said she accommodated this by adhering to the same philosophy she had when she began teaching: To treat each child differently according to their individual needs.  

Hughes, Hopkins colleage, recalled an example of this teaching style when Hopkins told her about how she disciplines some of her students. 

“'This one,' she said, 'I have to look straight in the eye and say no. This one I have to count down for. This one I just gently suggest he stop, because otherwise he'll cry,'” Hughes remembered. 

Morris Norrisse, a director of an after-school program at Jefferson, noted how Hopkins individual attention extended to parents. He had been upset with his son who was struggling in school, “But,” Norrisse said, “Mrs. Hopkins said 'let me talk to him' and he's been as good as gold ever since.” 

Norrisse said Hopkins didn't stop there, and after she gave a talk to his son, she gave another talk to Norrisse, and taught him how to do what she did. 

Hopkins also lauded the Berkeley School District for its focus on teacher training. With the help of UC Berkeley, the district brings in experts to teach new and experienced teachers up-to-date methods, research and theories in education.  

“It is crucial for a teacher to learn different methods and then adapt them to make them work for you,” Hopkins said. 

Seeing Hopkins off on Friday, longtime friend Phyllis Goldston acknowledged Hopkins abilities to make children interested in school and her love for her profession. 

“I'm sure that Barbara in retirement will still be working on things that will make children the best they can be,” Goldston said.