- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) - The two second-graders were fidgety and easily distracted, but Richard Halstead kept them as focused as possible on a set of addition and subtraction word problems.

Halstead engaged one of them in counting with small plastic cubes while the other child drew circles to represent each of the numbers in the equation, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported (https://bit.ly/ZSfjiJ ).

The Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence students were pulled out of their regular classroom to work in the small group. Halstead was substituting for the regular special education teacher on a recent Friday and only had about 20 minutes with the children before they headed back to class. Still, he made the most of the time teaching them the math lesson.

“I want to do the best I can, that’s what drives me, I guess,” said Halstead, a retired educator who has worked as a substitute for nearly 18 years. “I’m not there to baby-sit. I’m there to teach the lesson plan for the day.”

At age 81, though, he has continued teaching long after most educators would have faded out of the schools. And with substitute assignments available most days in Waterloo’s public and parochial schools, he is in the classroom frequently.

Waterloo Community Schools’ officials believe he is the oldest substitute teacher currently working in the district. A check of their records indicated the substitute closest in age is 77.

“I have a lot of people who wonder why I keep at it,” said Halstead, who teaches at the elementary, middle and high school levels. “I don’t consider it any big deal.”

Halstead’s son, Kent, isn’t surprised he has kept going all these years.

“I think it’s good for him,” said Kent, who is a history teacher and coach in Indianola. “He was just not wired to sit at home, ever.”

While Kent, his sister and two brothers were growing up, he remembers his dad always having a second job besides teaching. That allowed Halstead’s wife, Bonnie, to be a stay-at-home mom.

“I just think he has such a good work ethic” in addition to an enjoyment of being with other people, Kent said. Halstead’s example as a teacher is the main reason his son became an educator 29 years ago.

“It was an influence just to see him being involved in those kids’ lives,” Kent said. “I love going back to work on Monday because I love to teach and coach.”

He did choose a different subject to teach than his dad, though. The elder Halstead worked in agriculture education after graduating from Iowa State University in 1956. At points, he had to look for a new job because of limited vocational agricultural positions, even in rural high schools.

Halstead was hired to teach vocational-agriculture at Edgewood High School in Northeast Iowa in 1962 but was reassigned to biology, chemistry and physics a year later after the Edgewood-Colesburg merger. He moved on to Bondurant-Farrar High School in suburban Des Moines, where he worked for five years until the vocational-agriculture program was dropped. Halstead then taught vocational-agriculture for four years at Aplington High School west of Cedar Falls, as well as seventh-grade science in the district’s middle school.

In 1972, he took a job with Iowa Central Community College on its Storm Lake campus, teaching pre-career agribusiness courses to high school students whose schools didn’t have vocational-agriculture. After three years, he became the adult agriculture coordinator for the college and worked in the position until 1986.

That year, he got an offer to work for the Farmers Home Administration, which later became Rural Development, and took the job.

“The district director was a friend of ours in Storm Lake,” Halstead recalled. “Just over a cup of coffee he said, ‘Well, how would you like to work for us?’”

He would make agriculture and housing loans in the position working out of the agency’s Waverly office.

“I’m from West Union originally, and I had a chance to move back this way,” said Halstead, so he decided to leave education. Ten years later, though, the Waverly office was eliminated and he would have had to move to another area to keep his job. Instead, at age 63, he took a buyout from the agency and retired.

“It was good from that standpoint, but I wasn’t ready to hang it up,” he said. So in 1997, Halstead - who had since earned a master’s degree in ag education - began working as a substitute teacher.

Initially, much of Halstead’s subbing was at East High School, but his assignments became more varied in recent years. He’s since worked in every building across the Waterloo district.

Halstead had a scare last year when he felt light-headed and passed out while teaching a physical education class at Expo High School. “I bounced right back up,” said Halstead, but insists the fall is not a sign he’s getting too old to teach. The culprit, he later found out, was medication that kept his blood pressure too low.

Continuing to work as a substitute became more important for Halstead after his wife died suddenly last November after 55 years of marriage.

“That’s one reason I keep going: You’ve got to have purpose to get up in the morning,” he said. “I enjoy it. I feel like I’m contributing.”

“I just hate to give it up,” added Halstead, noting the schools need substitutes every day. “I don’t know how long I’m going to do it. I’m going to finish out this year, at least.”

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, https://www.wcfcourier.com

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