Second grade teacher Jane Gillette (left) and teaching assistant Aggie Geminder.

Second grade teacher retires to use linguistic background to help granddaughter in Montana

(Photo used by permission of Elise DeCarli)
Second grade teacher Jane Gillette (left) and teaching assistant Aggie Geminder. Both teachers retired this year after spending a combined total of 36 years at Country Day.

Second grade teacher Jane Gillette has been at Country Day since 2002. She is retiring this year to care for her granddaughter in Montana. Gillette is the mother of Elise DeCarli, ’13.


Q: Congratulations on retiring! How do you feel about this being your last year?

A: I’m ready. I’m ready for a switch.


Q: Why do you say that?

A: This is driven by the desire to help my grandchild.

I’m retiring because of my granddaughter – who isn’t quite 2 – who has speech delays, and that’s what I did my graduate degree in.

I got a (doctorate) in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania (in 2002), and my emphasis was on early childhood language. It kind of connected to what I was doing in second grade and gave me a good foundation for working with children.


Q: What exactly did you research for your doctorate?

A: I studied the role of syntactic processing in studying language – children looking at the linguistic aspects of words, looking at syntactic structure and seeing how they use those to hypothesize what those words are and how they fit together to mean something.

My emphasis was on normal childhood development, so I don’t have as much expertise in abnormal language development. But I could recognize that there were problems.


Q: What will your volunteering entail?

A: I will be working with her speech therapist, but I will hopefully be able to immerse her in speech therapy throughout the day instead of the regular two hours she gets every week.

Kids need a lot more than that if things aren’t going normally.


Q: Will this assistance be temporary for her?

A: Ideally, after a year or two she will have closed the gap, but we don’t know that at this point.


Q: Will you go back to teaching, or Country Day, if you’re able to resolve the problems?

A: I don’t know! I learned a long time ago that if I backed up five years from any point in my life, I almost never would have been able to predict how things actually turned out.


Q: What brought you to the school?

A: I had taught high school geometry in Kansas City before moving to Sacramento; my father was a headmaster, and my mother was an English teacher, and I always said I wouldn’t go into education.

But a job at a school in Kansas City fell into my lap, and I needed to do something more than just working on my dissertation.

I loved it – and I realized that I really loved teaching – so I explored teaching, specifically in an independent school because I grew up in independent schools, (and) I like freedom and the philosophy they have.

When (my husband and I) moved out here to Sacramento, I first applied to fifth grade for math and science. But that had just been filled, so I took a position in second grade.


Q: You taught in fifth grade for a few years too, right?

A: Yes, for two years.

(Current middle school math teacher Denise) Scruggs went to middle school at the same time that (former fifth grade English and social studies teacher Alice) Levy was retiring from fifth grade, and they didn’t want two brand-new teachers coming to Country Day, so they asked me if I would go into fifth grade, which I did happily.

I enjoyed it, but I missed second grade; I missed the reading pieces. I had developed an expertise for teaching the subjects for this age: the math, science, books and everything.

I really liked the age group too.


Q: Will you move, or are you going to stay in Sacramento?

A: My son and granddaughter live in Montana, so (my husband and I)’ve rented a condo there.

But my husband has a house here in Sacramento, so we’ll see where I’ll be. I might go between the two, or I might not. It depends on what my husband decides to do.

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Q: Is your husband retired too?

A: No, he isn’t. He works full time as the director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at (University of California) Davis.


Q: Will you have time to pursue hobbies you neglected while you were teaching?

A: Yes, I hope so. One of the things I’d like to do is get back to playing the piano, which I haven’t had the time to do for years.

I also love to bake, and I love to read for pleasure. But right now, usually by the time I read what I have to professionally, I don’t have the energy to read anything else.


Q: Will you continue research as you did in 2002?

A: I won’t be continuing what I did in my dissertation, but it’s possible that this could combine what I did back then with (ab)normal language development.


Q: I’ve read a bit about early linguistic development problems. Hers isn’t as severe as a mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, where she wouldn’t be able to express or show an understanding of grammatical units?

A: No, hers is a motor-processing problem – she isn’t articulating much to begin with.

It’s too early to know exactly how far she’s behind, but it’s clear that her development isn’t going normally.

By the time they’re 4, children are already starting to lose that ability for language. Of course, an 8-year-old will still be much better than an adult, but you can take babies whose native language is like English and Chinese, and by the time they’re six months old, they already are beginning to hear only certain sounds.


Q: I believe the age of peak language-learning is around 3. Is that why you were so quick to help her, so she won’t pass that threshold?

A: Yes, I volunteered early because I identified the problem early. I had suspected there was an issue for about a year, but she finally started in speech therapy back in January.

I know the importance of early intervention with language. With kids that don’t have normal development, you need to encourage them to do the things in speech therapy outside of speech therapy.

I’m looking forward to working with the speech therapist on seeing what I can do.


Q: You’ll still be making lesson plans then?

A: Yes, but in a whole different setting!

I feel really fortunate to have a background in something that I can use for my granddaughter, so I’m really looking forward to what I’m going to be doing next.

I will miss Country Day, however, and I’m a little sad about leaving.


Q: What are you going to miss the most about Country Day?

A: Oh, boy. Let’s see. . . I will miss a lot of pieces, but one I’ll miss the most is the sense of community.

It’s not just the children in my classroom – there are kids in the school, too, who I’ve taught somewhere along the way and colleagues that are interesting and bright and have stimulating conversations with me.

For 16 years that’s been my world, mostly. It’s going to be a big change.


Q: Montana’s also a big change from California. Ever had experience there?

A: My son went to Montana State (University) and fell in love with the area, so I’ve spent time there visiting him and his family.

I’ll be back to real winter – which I have experienced before, just not for 20 years.

—By Chardonnay Needler

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