AGAWAM – It all started for Deborah “Deb” Florek when she was a child who loved to draw and often pretended to be a teacher. These two things eventually drew her to a 32-year career, teaching art to Agavam students.
Florek, who will retire this week, began her career at Agavam High School in 1990. For the past 20 years, she has been helping Agavam High School (AHS) students improve their artistic skills. Some have become art teachers themselves, others have used their talent in other careers, and some have made art a favorite pastime in their lives.
“Art has endless opportunities to grow and challenge yourself and your students,” Florek said. “All students want to learn and create. Many of them are successful working artists in a number of fields. “
She said that over more than three decades of teaching, some things have changed in the classroom.
“When I was in junior high school, the biggest problem was whether the student was chewing gum or not. Teachers now have mobile phones to compete with. Students have a huge problem with having their mobile phones with them. “
On the plus side, she never hesitates in her efforts to provide students with more in-depth training in classes such as Drawing and Drawing II, Sculpture II, National Art Awards I, II and Digital Photography II.
“It is important to have these classes in order to achieve learning / creation at a higher level. In addition, technology has improved in our art evaluation and virtual art sharing / sharing programs. ”
However, many of the same challenges that Florek faced as a new teacher still exist. She said that although teachers are experts in their fields, they are often required to do things outside their area of expertise.
“We are not guidance counselors, but we listen to students, encourage them, give them an incentive to achieve, share their joys and sorrows, guide them to make wise choices and help with their social and emotional care,” she explained.
Florek said teachers always ensure that students are welcome, valued and prepared to learn, but are constantly asked to do more and more without being paid more.
Still, it was difficult for her when it came time to retire. “I still love what I do. I always tell students to find a job you love – then it’s not a “job” in itself. But I’m the right age – 61 – so it was time to retire. “
She said some of her best memories as a teacher are watching students become talented artists who grow into “amazing” adults.
“I will miss seeing the students grow into adults before us – freshmen today, graduates tomorrow.
Florek grew up in Southwick, but now lives in Agavam. She said her family was excited about her retirement.
“My husband and I hope to travel and spend more time with our two grandchildren,” she said. “I also hope to have time to create my own art projects.”
She said AHS staff were “stubborn and connected very well” with students.
Florek said Rebecca Osborne, a Doring school art teacher, was moving to high school to take up her position, calling it a “great addition” to high school.
Florek said that among her most proud moments at AHS was working with her visual arts colleagues Amber Waters and Diana DeCaro. They praised Florek not only for her dedication to students, but also for helping them throughout their AHS careers.
Waters, who chairs the visual arts department, said Florek has spent endless hours in the high school’s visual arts program. “She works to develop classes and programs that highlight numerous creative opportunities for students – from beginners to advanced skill levels. Her calm demeanor was a welcome and inviting presence when the students entered her room.
Waters added that Florek has always encouraged students to “do more” and strive to reach their full potential beyond: “She will miss Deb at AHS. She had such a positive impact on the department, her students and most importantly – me as an art teacher. She is the type of teacher we all strive to be. ”
DeCaro said that Florek has a relationship with her and always spends time with students and colleagues.
“She is known for her kindness and concern,” DeCaro said. “Deb welcomed me not only when I started teaching English on the other side of the corridor, but also when I became a member of the visual arts department in 2012.
For eight years, DeCaro and Florek shared a classroom. DeCarro recalls that her colleague “has always been a great sport” for sharing what was originally just Florek’s space.
“We could laugh together about everything, and sometimes we shared videos of comedians when we needed a lift,” DeCaro said. “She was in my life through the birth of my two daughters and gave me an ear and advice when I needed them – both as a new art teacher and as a new mother.
DeCaro said she learned a lot from Florek on many levels and in different qualities: “I will miss her a lot. I hope she travels and does things that bring her great joy in retirement.
She also shared the last stanza of a poem she wrote about Florek’s retirement, summarizing how she and her colleagues felt about leaving Florek: “And we will appreciate all our sweet memories of the only Flo!”