Elderly woman in colorful sweater smiles

March 25, 2020

I am a retired teacher, which traditionally means I have withdrawn from active involvement in my profession. Deciding to retire from the teaching profession was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. I recall walking down the hall of the elementary school where I taught music. I was on my way to the principal’s office to tell him I would be retiring at the end of the school year. The closer I got to the office, the more tears welled up in my eyes. As a last resort, I darted into a colleague’s classroom. It was another month before I finally made it to the principal’s office.

I still want to be as active in my teaching career as possible even though I have officially withdrawn. For that reason, I continue to teach part-time. For a number of years, I missed teaching and the resulting personal gratification of making a difference in students’ lives.

More recently, however, I have sought other professionals who are continuing to use their expertise as educators to effect a positive change in others. If I am not continuing to teach full-time, I want to support and network with those who do continue to effect changes in their students.

In recent years, I have read with interest some especially inspiring articles about two University of Iowa professors. Several articles have described the work of Mary Cohen with the Oakdale Community Choir in Coralville, Iowa, and the highlighted work that Armeda Wojciak accomplishes while building resilience in students in some Iowa schools and helping those who have Adverse Childhood Experiences. My own research interests relate to both professors’ work.

Mary L. Cohen, an associate professor with joint appointment in the UI Colleges of Education and Liberal Arts and Sciences, teaches music education at UI and researches the relationship between choral singing and well-being, especially in prisons. In 2009, she founded the Oakdale Community Choir, which rehearses once per week and performs several concerts per year inside the prison. The choir is comprised of “inside singers” from the prison population and “outside singers” from the university and greater Iowa City communities. Positive results have been noted as a result of the cooperative relationships among the insiders and outsiders while singing regularly together.

Armeda Wojciak is an assistant professor in the UI College of Education’s Couple and Family Therapy program. Her focus is on improving academic and other outcomes of children with adverse childhood experiences. Being resilient after encounters with adversity can be developed by children with the appropriate environments and adult influences. Professor Wojciak has helped develop a trauma-informed intervention in selected school districts in Iowa. A whole-school approach, the We Can! program, provides teachers and staff with prevention and classroom intervention tools aimed at promoting resilience and building relationships that will increase a child’s opportunity for success.

As I continue to direct my contributions to support these two programs, my feelings of personal gratification have returned. I feel I am, in some small way, continuing to make a difference in students’ lives.

Priscilla B. Zimmerman, UI Alumna
Ph.D., Mezzo-Soprano
Continuing Education
Santa Fe Community College
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Bachelor of Music, '66
Master of Arts in Music Education, '67

Read more from our 2019-2020 alumni magazine