Godwin Heights — Walk into Lynn Bradford’s kindergarten class and your eyes will just naturally find it: the bright green men’s underwear taped to the wall.
“If you would ask my students about me, they would tell you that I was crazy,” Bradford said with a laugh. “And then they would probably tell you, because just about every person that walks into the room they say to them ‘Look! We’ve got crazy green underwear on our wall.”
The underwear was part of a Reading Month project where Bradford’s students wrote a story about a pair of creepy underwear. Bradford got about eight of the teachers to act out the story, all wearing creepy underwear.
“I wore my creepy green underwear the rest of the day, even for dismissal,” Bradford said triumphantly. “But yeah, that’s how I feel the beat because if they’re having fun, they’re gonna pay attention and if they’re paying attention, they’re learning and I win.”
And that, according to Bradford, sums her up.
From Student to Teacher
This fall, for the first time since 1966, Bradford will not be coming to Godwin Heights Public Schools. OK, there were those four years at Central Michigan University when she was studying to become a teacher, but besides that, Bradford has been a part of the Godwin family for 57 years, the past 38 as a teacher.
“Some of my former students have reached out and just said some things to me that have made my heart just so happy,” Bradford said. “They say ‘You’re such a blessing.’ I go ‘Oh, no, no, you guys are the ones who blessed me.’
“I couldn’t be who I am without my 38 years of my babies. They helped me be a better teacher. They helped me be a better mom. I learned so much from being here with them.”
From Reading Month activities to encouraging school spirit, Bradford invites students into her life by sharing stories and engaging them with hands-on activities, said colleague and kindergarten teacher Holly Volstad. She calls Bradford a “giant kid,” who is always having fun, being crazy and creating memories.
“She sits with her students at dismissal time until everyone is picked up,” Volstad said. “Even though (paraprofessionals) come to ‘relieve her’ so she can get back to her classroom to work or go home, she chooses to sit and chat with the students who have not been picked up yet. Sometimes, it is the same kids that aren’t picked up for quite a while, but she always makes them feel special.”
Being a Teacher Was the Dream
Bradford said her actions are often dictated on how she would like her own daughter, Jesse, to be treated at school.
“How would I want Jesse’s teacher to be?” Bradford said. “And that’s who I tried to become. If her shoes weren’t tied, I’d want (the teacher) to tie her shoes. And if her hair was crazy, I’d want her to like wet it down a little bit and get it under control.
“I want them to feel like they can come here and this is their home away from home.”
It is how the teachers made Bradford feel when she attended Godwin and eventually gave her the desire to become a teacher herself.
“Since I was in second grade, I wanted to be a teacher,” Bradford said. “My teacher in second grade got me hooked on reading — like hooked hooked — and that’s when I decided I was going to be a teacher.”
When she graduated from Godwin Heights High School in 1979, there were a plethora of teachers on the market, making it hard to secure a teaching position.
“In high school, they said don’t do it,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Alright, maybe I’ll be a secretary. No, I just want to be a teacher.’ So I just went for it.”
There was no doubt where Bradford wanted to teach: Godwin.
“I really wanted to come back here so that I could make kids feel the same way I felt when I was going here,” she said. “Because I wanted them to feel like I felt. I was happy. I loved it.”
“Mrs. Bradford’s leaving?” said second-grader Tylan McElroy, who had Bradford in kindergarten. “No, no, no, no, no. She’s not leaving.”
That is the general reaction most of the students gave to the news that Bradford was not returning — she is retiring with her last day being June 2 — whether she was their teacher or not. Then the stories come.
“She doesn’t like snow,” Tylan said. “On a snowy day, she had snow on her nose and Jacob came up and went ‘puff’ and it was gone.”
‘I couldn’t be who I am without my 38 years of my babies. They helped me be a better teacher. They helped me be a better mom. I learned so much from being here with them.’— Lynn Bradford
First-grader Asa Burley said Bradford was always fun and nice.
“To celebrate my birthday, she let me draw a little person and then she put it on the birthday train,” Asa said. “My birthday is in May, so it was in the May car.”
“I remember once we went outside and were sitting on a bench and she told us to make silly faces and she took our picture,” said second-grader Itzae Parada-Cortez.
First-grader Izabella Rojas said silly faces and fun were always part of Bradford’s class, but most of all “she always helped us.”
Don’t Box Her In
Bradford has always been one to teach outside the box. You can tell by just looking at her room. To some, it may seem cluttered, but each item has a purpose. Old snack containers are placed on an alphabet line to help students remember their letters; colored pictures adorn the walls, even the ones in the bathroom; and stuffed animals and toys line the perimeter.
“I think my room is very well lived in,” Bradford said. “That’s what I would call it and we use everything that’s in here. There’s not anything that’s in here that we don’t learn with.”
There are also a lot of memories, items from students, and of course, that pair of creepy green underwear.
“I am going to miss those things like Reading Month,” Bradford said, adding that through the highs and lows, her Godwin family has always been there for her.
“They’ve just been my family away from home,” Bradford said. “People will say to me, ‘I know you’re going to leave, but I know that you won’t leave. You’ll be here with us.’
“I don’t think I can ever really leave. I think it’s just such a big part of me. I am a Godwin girl. That’s just who I am.”