There and Back Again
After more than 40 years, including a “retirement,” a Coconut Creek High teacher still calls the school home
After retiring, most employees feel the urge to get as far away from their former workplace as possible. But not Ann Humphreys. Six years after officially calling it a career, Humphreys is still teaching (only now as a substitute) at Coconut Creek High School, where she worked full time from 1973 to 2011.
“It’s in my blood; I just couldn’t stay away,” says the German-born Humphreys, who taught American history, world history and German through the years. “I love all these people; I’ve known [many of them] for years. [Others] have retired. A lot of them think I’m absolutely insane because once they’re gone, they don’t come back. I come back continuously, so I get ribbed by my colleagues.”
Humphreys started teaching in Michigan in 1971 after graduating from Michigan State University. In 1972, she moved to South Florida and taught at North Miami Senior High School for a year. Then, she moved to Plantation and started teaching at Coconut Creek High in 1973.
“There was nothing around. I got off the Turnpike from Plantation. There was no Wynmoor, there was nothing,” she says. “There was just Creek.”
After retiring in 2011, she taught at a charter school, as she was required to wait a year to teach at a public school. But when that year was over, she couldn’t stay away.
“After that, I had to come back to Creek,” she says. “This is my home. I grew up here basically.”
Today, she substitutes as needed for physical education, foreign languages, math, chemistry and more. But because she was known for teaching German, she is affectionately known as “Frau” to former and current students. (“I guess I’m a tradition,” she says.)
“Some call me ‘Miss Frau,’ which is ‘Miss Mrs.’ but that’s being polite to me. It’s a culture. It should be Frau Humphreys,” she says. “The administration knows it. The kids know it. The parents know it. ‘Who’s your sub?’ ‘Frau.’ ”
But no matter what they call her, their love for her remains the same.
“I love the kids, and … I know they love me,” she says. “I get hugs when I’m walking down the hallway. ‘Are you going to be our sub today?’ ”
What has changed are some of the teaching requirements and restrictions. (For example, students used to be free to leave campus for lunch.)
“You could be more spontaneous. Now they’re very rigid,” she says. You have to have the essential question up on the board. You have to have your objective up on the board. Everything is scripted for you, and that takes away the heart of teaching.”
It’s the reason she enjoys being a substitute. (“I love the kids,” she says, “but enough with the lesson plans.”) In her day, she enjoyed teaching German with rhymes and songs, and her former students can still recite them from memory.
“I would teach them to count,” she says. “Eins. Zwei. If you’re not wet, you’re drei. And you’re really, really scared, so you have a lot of vier. Funf—there’s nothing you can do for that one. But they’ll never forget this one: sechs.” (It’s pronounced “sex.”)
Throughout the years, she took students on 26 trips to Europe, showing them what they learned in class. “Everything that I teach in history becomes alive because they actually can see it,” she says.
At Creek High, living history wasn’t always easy. A race riot rocked the campus in the 1970s. On 9/11, an administrator told her to turn off the TV in her American history class, but she left it on so the students could see what was happening. Lighter memories involve foreign language competitions, sponsoring the National Honor Society, and one special day in 1977.
“We were doing our finals and all of a sudden, we heard, ‘It’s snowing!’ It’s snowing? We put our finals down. We walked outside,” Humphreys says. “Snowflakes are hitting us, melting immediately. Nothing stuck, but those kids could actually say, ‘Yeah, I remember where I was.’ ”
While times have changed since Humphreys first started to teach, and even since she retired, so have the kids. She admits today’s children are more confrontational and swear more. But, she says, “they’re still kids” and need to know you care.
“If they come in in a bad mood, you don’t attack them. You be gentle with them,” she says. “Let them know that you’re on their side. You’ll help them. You’ll be there for them. And they always knew that I would be there for them whether it was during school or after. If they needed me, they knew they could call me.”
That love has created a bond that persists to this day with past and current students. Many current students are related to her past students.
“I love the kids and we have a bond to the point where I have kids [from] 40 years ago,” she says. “They’ll text me. We’ll Facebook each other and everything like that.”
As a Coral Springs resident, Humphreys has substituted at other Broward County schools but nowhere else can she walk by a graffiti-covered wall with her name on it in Room 158.
“I think there’s a kind of respect because they know that I love Creek so much, and I care about them even though I’m a substitute,” she says. “They come to me with their problems, and I try to direct them to the right person to talk to. They know that I’m available and that, because I’ve been there long enough, I know the ropes.”
In the end, Humphreys keeps coming back because Creek is home.
“We were a family,” she says. “Creek was great; Creek still is great.”
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles celebrating Coconut Creek’s 50th anniversary.