Terri Thornton Retires After 43 Years of Teaching By Charlotte Clarke, Danielle Dentremont and Kate McLellan.

The ultimate goal of discipline is to teach self-discipline. These may be the words of Pat Summitt, a renowned American women’s college basketball head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols, but Walpole High School’s Terri Thornton has taken this saying off the court and applied it to the classroom.

“Discipline is not something you do to a kid, but for a kid, until they can learn to do it for themselves,” Thornton said.

Thornton has been a physical education and health teacher at Walpole Public Schools since 1975. Over a 43-year span of her life, Thornton has totaled more than 32 years of employment at Walpole High School. Like Pat Summit, whom Thornton admires, Thornton has proved to be beyond dedicated to her teachings. Not only did Thornton instill the importance of physical well-being in her students, but she has been a longtime supporter of the school’s sports teams. She is emphatic that people attend these events because students manifest different sides of themselves on the field than they do in school.

“Go to as many things as you can because you see the kids in another light,” Thornton said. “You don’t know these other parts of kids until you see what is important to them outside of school.”

Thornton (far right, standing) poses with the gymnastics team in one of her early years of coaching and teaching.
"You don’t know these other parts of kids until you see what is important to them outside of school.”

Throughout her career, Thornton has not only been an asset to Walpole High School, but she has taught physical education at Eleanor N. Johnson Middle School and Fisher School as well. With certifications from Bridgewater State College in K-12 education, Thornton taught at Johnson for about three years after taking leave to raise her children. She left Johnson Middle School to be named department head of P.E. and health at Walpole High while simultaneously teaching P.E. at Fisher three times a week. When P.E. and health classes were suspended due to budget cuts, Thornton took on a full-time position at Fisher for two years.

“I taught at all three levels, but high school is my favorite because you can talk with kids and joke with kids,” Thornton said. “You can have fun with them. Not that you can’t have fun with the little ones, but a lot of what you find funny is over their heads, so I really enjoyed high school and the interaction with kids.”

Thornton is now taking time to spend time with her grandchildren.

Nonetheless, Walpole High has always felt like home to Thornton as she coached field hockey for 27 years and gymnastics for 13 to 14 years in addition to teaching. Under Thornton’s leadership, the Walpole Porkers won several championships and the gymnastics team clinched a couple.

“Even when I wasn’t teaching, I coached two sports so I was up here all the time— it felt like it anyways,” Thornton said.

Thornton's 1975 yearbook photo.

Thornton even enlightened non-PE staff members. Science teacher Daniel Mullaney shared that Thornton’s persona cannot be defined by a single memory.

“My favorite memory of Mrs. Thornton isn't a specific memory, but rather listening to her tell a story about her experiences as a new teacher and how she often learned the difference between what sounded good in theory and what actually worked in a real classroom,” Mullaney said. “It often reminded me of my own experiences and we could share a laugh.”

Thornton poses with two seniors, Jake Gallant (left) and Patrick Colburn (right), on her last day working at WHS.

In her earlier years at WHS, Thornton dedicated six weeks to creating Gymnaestrada. Gymnaestrada was a gymnastics show that consisted of comedy routines, a triple balance team, rapid-fire vaulting and a mini-trampoline routine. Thornton particularly enjoyed the concluding act of the evening, called the “tableau,” which adhered to a unique theme each year. Some aspects of this act included the following: illuminating certain students—who were painted in silver—with colored lights, a giant wagon wheel called “the Wheel of Progress,” a student embodying Rodin the Thinker and raising the flag of Iwo Jima. For Thornton, events such as these were all about celebrating her students.

“I’ve always loved working with kids and I got to do what I love to do so it made my life feel fulfilled, feel complete,” Thornton said.

Some pictures from Gymnaestrada.
"I've always loved working with kids and I got to do what I love to do so it made my life feel fulfilled, feel complete."

Humbly, Thornton shared that not only did she teach her students, but they taught her how to be a better teacher. Thornton believes that patience is essential to growing as an educator.

“Every year, I got a year older and hopefully a year smarter, but each year I learned something new about ways to deal with kids. Whether it was good or I decided ‘Oh well, I’m not going to do that again,’” Thornton said.

Thornton enjoys Disney with her granddaughter.

Thornton’s years of teaching in Walpole have taught her many rewarding lessons as she has embraced all aspects of the job, such as ensuring that every single one of her students is comfortable in her class.

“Some kids have more support at home and some kids have less support, so it's about filling in the gaps for kids with less support,” Thornton said “I’m not sure that’s a challenge. It’s kind of part of the job.”

Coach Thornton (top left) poses for a yearbook photo with the gymnastics team.

Quinn Geary and Benjamin Kampper, both current physical education instructors, agree that Thornton had a great impact on the whole school, and specifically on the P.E. department. During the 2008-2009 school year, Thornton wrote and received the Carol M. White pep grant, worth about $500,000, which revamped the P.E. program. This change necessitated that two additional P.E. teachers be hired. Those teachers were Geary and Kampper, who both expressed their gratitude toward Thornton for prompting this opportunity.

“She actively fought for the expansion of this school's PE program and I think she clearly won the battle. The program is now properly staffed, has great facilities and equipment, and has record numbers of students taking physical education,” Kampper said. “None of that would be possible without Mrs. Thornton's drive.”

Thornton smiles at the camera for a yearbook photo.

Kampper recollected a time when Thornton went the extra mile to help a student successfully complete a pull-up.

“One student was struggling to get his chin above the bar for a full rep. Mrs. Thornton literally grabbed this kids legs and started boosting him up above the bar,” Kampper said. “That is how much Mrs. Thornton cared about her students' fitness. Most teachers might give some verbal encouragement, but Mrs. Thornton actually pushed the student so that he could achieve success.”

Thornton coaches the Porkers, and on the left is Nottebart.

Thornton has devoted her life to helping children thrive in her teachings, and will continue to do so as she departs WHS. In her retirement, Thornton hopes to spend time with her children and grandchildren, positively impacting their lives in the way that she has with so many students.

“My oldest son has two kids now and they live in Florida. It was hard to visit on the school year terms, but now I can come and go when I want and for as long as I want,” Thornton said.

Now that she has an abundance of free time, Thornton has plans to keep busy in her retirement.

“I love to garden. I love to grow things, I guess, whether it’s kids or vegetables or flowers,” Thornton said. “I’ve always spent my free time going to sporting events and now I’ll have more time to go. I spent so much of my life either coaching or watching my own kids play that it would feel incomplete not going to see other kids doing things. I watch everyone else’s kids now.”

Other staff members expressed their gratitude for Thornton.

“I would just like to thank Mrs. Thornton for her many years of hard work and dedication to the profession,” Geary said.

Mrs. Thornton calls this "Grammy Heaven."

Adding to Thornton’s repertoire within Walpole’s sports community, Thornton has been an advocate for sentimentalizing the traditions of high school sports. In 2005, Thornton served on a committee opposed to renovating Turco Field’s bleachers. She insisted that newer, smaller bleachers would not accommodate events such as graduation and football games, which serve as memories of unity and pride for many within the community. Thornton feels that attending events such as these are essential to a fulfilling high school career.

“For a few years kids were not going to games. I was sometimes the only spectator and that made me sad,” Thornton said. “When I was first teaching everyone went to everything. That part was missing.”

Thornton (middle) watches the team play alongside fellow coaches.

Thornton has noticed an increase in school spirit during recent events. She praises the P.R.I.D.E. initiative the school has introduced, as she has witnessed the positive effect it has brought upon the WHS community. Thornton is thrilled that a sense of vitality and enthusiasm toward athletics, which she witnessed in her earliest years as an educator, has been renewed.

“P.R.I.D.E. has helped bring back interaction with everyone else,” Thornton said. “When kids leave class now they say ‘thank you’ and I remember that the first few times I heard that I was like ‘woah’ that’s different.”

Thornton smiles in a candid while coaching the gymnastics team.

Overall, Thornton has left just as much of a mark on WHS as her idol, Summitt, did on women’s college basketball. Her ultimate goal as a teacher was to educate students on performing to the best of their abilities. Indisputably, Thornton’s work ethic did more than accomplish this goal.

“Disciplining is not about punishing a kid, but it is about setting structure. Everybody needs structure. Everybody needs deadlines,” Thornton said. "To help kids find that in themselves is what I found to be the most rewarding part of teaching.”

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