Don Collins was not expecting this year's Hindley Elementary School yearbook to be dedicated to him.
"It was very emotional," the 64-year-old physical education teacher said. "I was gratified by that. They were chanting my name."
Collins retired this month after 40 years in the Darien school district. He taught at Hindley for 31 years.
"I got a lot more out of (the students) than they did out of me," Collins said.
Donald Collins: physical education, Hindley Elementary School, 40 years
Bonita Messman: mathematics, Darien High School, 39 years
Joan Lauten: Spanish, Middlesex Middle School, 37 years
Michael Caro: guidance counselor, Darien High School, 36 years
Douglas Paulsen: English, Darien High School, 36 years
Gail Hannigan: family studies, Middlesex Middle School, 27 years
Ralph Chianelli: computer science, Darien High School, 24.5 years (retired in January of 2014)
Suzanne Stisser: physical education, Tokeneke Elementary School, 23 years
Karen Ericson, third grade, Holmes Elementary School, 22 years
Sheila Riedell: fourth grade, Holmes Elementary School, 18 years
Mary Ellen Flaherty-Ludwig: science, Middlesex Middle School, 17 years
Marilyn Dunleavy: summer and continued education secretary, central office, 26 years
Robert Jobst: head custodian, Royle Elementary School, 10.5 years
Carol Parisi: secretary to director of finance, central office, 7 years
The dedication at the end-of-school assembly -- which was not his first one in the yearbook -- was emotionally gratifying, he said.
"You feel like you're a rock star," Collins said. "You know you've made a difference in their lives."
Collins is among 14 school staff who retired at the end of the school year and is the longest-serving teacher to leave Darien. He spent 31 years at Hindley Elementary School after starting his career at Ox Ridge Elementary School.
He was working at the Stamford YMCA before getting his start in Darien. He had just married and had no children. Now, he's the father of two and grandfather of five.
Hindley Principal Rita Ferri noted in a letter to staff members that Collins is an "upstanding individual who has taught us all the value of playing a clean, honest game, not only on the field, but in life as well," and that Hindley would be "unthinkable" without him.
Through his 40 years, Collins said there is no one moment that stands out.
"It was such a wonderful place to teach," Collins said. "I really enjoyed teaching there and I guess the kids would be the thing that stands out."
Collins said the parents in the community care a lot about their children and are actively involved in their schooling.
"You have great kids to work with and they're very receptive and highly motivated," he said.
When Collins first started as an educator, he didn't feel he was a very good teacher. As the years rolled on, however, he was able to refine what he considers a craft and an art.
"I think my best teaching years were at the end of my time," Collins said.
He believes he has accomplished all he could as a physical education teacher and wants to pursue other activities, such as hiking and traveling. He also spoke of wanting to make use of his passion for golf by volunteering at various professional tournaments.
Throughout his years as an educator, and some time as a basketball and volleyball coach, Collins said he never felt like he was "burnt out" from teaching.
"I just like the kids. You're either born to teach or you're not. I think it was my calling."
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