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Riverhead High School math teacher reflects on 30-year career

Theresa Carr, beloved Riverhead High School math teacher, is retiring after 38 years of teaching, 30 of which were at Riverhead.

“I have to admit, it’s bittersweet,” Ms. Carr said. “The last days of classes were heart-wrenching. Saying goodbye to the students and saying goodbye to staff members, particularly my department, who are awesome, was heartbreaking.”

Ms. Carr is known by her students as always being available for questions. A Facebook comment on a News-Review story said: “I truly do not know if I would have ever passed math without Ms. Carr’s understanding and patience. She is by far one of the best teachers I have ever met. She will be missed.”

Her usual routine was to come in early and stay until about 4:30 p.m., so students could find her even if they had other commitments.

“As strange as it might sound, kids will actually find me while I’m on bathroom duty and they’ll pull up a chair and sit with me,” she said. “I think just the accessibility has been a big point, that kids can find me during the day if they have questions.”

She is also known for her strict rules that she said augment her teaching style.

“You do not walk in late to my class nor should you use a cellphone in my class,” Ms. Carr explained.

She lived by a piece of advice that was given to her when she first started teaching at Riverhead High School 30 years ago. Her chairperson at the time said that she should never lower her expectations, because the students will always rise to the expectations that are set.

Ms. Carr thinks back to her first year of teaching, when she was 20, after graduating from St. John’s University.

“My first year of teaching was absolutely the most horrendous year of any teacher in the world,” she said, laughing. She explained how she tried too hard to be a friend instead of a teacher.

“I actually have to thank a fellow teacher who convinced me to come back a second year,” Ms. Carr said. “If it had not been for that one person saying to me, ‘You know what? It is going to get better,’ I’m not sure I would’ve been here today to retire. It took a while but you do get better over the years.”

Ms. Carr said she planned to spend the next six months reading books that her department has given her as gifts, while waiting for her husband to retire from the United States Postal Service. She hopes to cross off many places she wants to travel to from her bucket list.

She is passing on all her files to her coworkers and her son, who is also a math teacher in the Bay Shore School District.

“The best is finding kids that I taught 15, 20 or 30 years ago that now I can see have grown up into these truly wonderful adults,” Ms. Carr said.

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Photo: Theresa Carr in her classroom on one of the final days of her 38-year teaching career. Thirty of those years were spent at Riverhead High School. (Credit: Rachel Siford)