Science Teacher Ends Her 41-Year Teaching Career at Lewis High School

Geosystems and Geospatial Analysis teacher Mary Schaefer leaves a legacy of having taught and inspired at least three generations of Lewis High School students.


Alex Ewing

End of an era: Geosystems and Geospatial Analysis teacher Mary Schaefer addresses her students as she ends her final year of teaching at Lewis.

Maazullah Foshanji, Guest Writer

Beloved science teacher Mary Schaefer will retire at the end of the school year after forty-one years of teaching at John R. Lewis High School. Schaefer is the longest serving staff member at Lewis and possibly one of the longest in Fairfax County Public Schools.

Schaefer has always served Lewis’ science department, in which she currently teaches Geosystems and Geospatial Analysis.

Schaefer described the experience of having taught at one school for so long and nearing retirement.

“It has been a journey, but the time has flown by. There have been a lot of changes. I have been here and experienced many different principals. (I think seven but I am not sure). What I have found is that nothing is ever new. The same ideas about how students learn and how we should teach keep circling back around. What some people introduce as a new idea was something I remember trying back thirty years ago. It’s pretty funny,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer started her teaching career in 1981 when the school was named Robert E. Lee High School.

Schaeffer mentions the changes within the teaching profession since those early days.

“It was very different from today. There was much more latitude [in the 1980’s] as to what and how you wanted to teach. Inquiry based learning where students spent more on discovery was prevalent in my lessons. [Today] there is more technology available which is both a good thing and a bad thing. We went from seeing all classes each day for 55 minutes to block scheduling. There was no Advisory–only a 25 minute homeroom. There are more deadlines, SOLs, and less time to teach new things today,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer has taught at least three generations of students in Springfield, and she offers a unique perspective on high school students.

“Every generation has their thing and you have to respect that.  As a teacher we are expected to keep up, but it is exhausting,” Schaeffer said.

Schaeffer continued, stressing her concerns regarding the importance of students being informed about the world outside of the walls of our school.

“What I have found disconcerting is the slow dwindling of current event knowledge. I am not sure that our students today listen to the news and understand what is actually going on.  We used to get the [Washington Post] delivered to the school everyday, and students could have access to it, but that stopped.  I know that they have access to news on their phones, but I am not sure that they even check to see what is going on,” Schaefer said.

Teaching different generations required Schaefer to adapt her teaching style.

“I have found that as students’ needs have changed, I have had to be more flexible in the way I teach without feeling that I am being taken advantage of.  The demands on our students are greater now. Many have to work to help support their family,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer has only taught at Lewis High School, and although she received interest from other schools, she never considered leaving. There are many reasons for Schaeffer’s staying at Lewis.

“I like the demographics of the school.  There are so many people here from different places with different cultures that I find so interesting. I love to hear the different languages spoken in the hallways,” Schaefer said.

Although retiring is a hard decision for her, she has many plans in mind to accomplish after retirement. Schaefer is very passionate about helping others, so she plans to volunteer at local hospitals and food banks. Some of her goals include learning languages, such as Italian and Chinese, and traveling after retiring.

Before retiring and leaving Lewis High School, Schaefer offers her advice to all students.

“Step out of your comfort zone and try something new.  Be willing to meet new people. Look up from your phone and smile at someone, they might smile back,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer’s experiences have been unique due to her long-standing dedication and service to Lewis High School. She will be missed my her colleagues and the generations of students she has taught and inspired.