Payson High School teacher Teri McKee retired at the end of the last school year.
In and of itself the act is not that noteworthy. Unless they die on the job, all teachers eventually retire.
What makes this teacher's story stand out is an event that took place recently. McKee, who taught consumer and family sciences at PHS for 26 years, was invited back during homecoming to be presented with a handmade quilt her former students had made and signed for her.
When she walked into the classroom, student after student hugged her in an emotional and spontaneous display of affection that said everything about the importance of the role teachers play in the lives of young people.
McKee later reflected on the relationships she built with her students.
"I feel I respected each individual student and expected respect in return," she said. "With this foundation, the students and I worked through our daily tasks and established a caring bond. I feel this taught the students they could establish a good working relationship with people of all ages and attitudes."
Consumer and family sciences is what used to be known as home economics. Its curriculum teaches real-life skills for both home and the workplace, including nutrition, problem-solving, food preparation, time management, getting to know older adults, working alongside students with special needs, and developing coping skills.
"Students can see the value of what's being taught," McKee said. "That made my job both meaningful and fun."
McKee also believes the Character Counts program is having a noticeable impact on students. Character Counts is based on six pillars of character -- trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship -- that teachers try to immerse into every aspect of the school program, including both curricular and non-curricular activities.
McKee was instrumental in getting the program adopted by the Payson Unified School District.
"The whole thing got started when Teri went to a character education conference in California," PHS Principal Sue Myers said.
McKee came back and sold PUSD Superintendent Herb Weissenfels on the program, it was discussed at an administrator's retreat, and a teachers workshop was scheduled. Those who attended the workshop then went back to their schools and trained their fellow teachers.
"What Mrs. (Devon) Wells (who also teaches consumer and family sciences) and I would do is to emphasize one of the six pillars each month," McKee said. "Caring, of course, is one of the pillars and that's why I think the students made the quilt for me."
Many of the students McKee taught were with her all four of their high school years. The bond that forms over that extended period of time is often lasting, and McKee frequently runs into former students when she's out and about.
"I am proud of what I could teach the teenagers of Payson, and I am proud to watch them use the skills with their own families and jobs today," she said.
McKee plans to spend some of her time helping out with her family's clothing business, and she wants to spend more time with friends who also are at or nearing retirement age. But it's a pretty safe bet she'll visit PHS occasionally.
"I don't miss the rigid routine, but I do miss the interaction with the students," she said. "I do miss that part, and I'll always miss that part."