On Friday morning, Clear Lake Elementary students conducted a clap-out ceremony for retiring kindergarten teacher Diane Lukas-Noe, who’s seen here walking arm-in-arm with her husband of 33 years, Mike Noe. She tried, but she just couldn’t hold back the tears. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
Normally, the last day of school is cause for joyous celebration – the end of another academic year, the start of summer vacation, students moving up to the next level and so forth.
But at Clear Lake Elementary Friday, the last day marked the end of an era, the close of a teaching career that’s touched countless hearts and minds.
Kindergarten teacher Diane Lukas-Noe, who’s been with the district since 1987, bid farewell to her last class and is ready to embark on a new chapter in her life – the retirement years.
But the school didn’t let her just quietly slip away. Everyone packed the cafeteria for a special surprise assembly to celebrate Lukas-Noe’s career and positive impact, express their gratitude and say good-bye.
She was presented with gifts.
The school’s Green Team, a student club dedicated to promoting environmental awareness, presented Lukas-Noe with two special garden stones. She had been involved with the club for 11 years.
From the Clear Lake Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), Lukas-Noe received a gorgeous Royal Star Magnolia tree.
“We just wanted something (that produces flowers), so every time it blooms, she’ll remember us here,” said Danielle Wernis, incoming PTO vice president.
Following the gifts, everyone watched a special video tribute featuring a variety of past and present Clear Lake students, along with fellow teachers and staff members, all of whom expressed how much Lukas-Noe means to them.
They thanked her for the difference she made in their lives. They praised her abilities as an educator and her warmth as a human being. They shared fond memories. They wished her well.
She was visibly moved by the video.
Following the assembly, everyone – staff, students and parents – lined both sides of the halls to participate in a clap-out ceremony for Lukas-Noe as she walked arm-in-arm with Mike Noe, her husband of 33 years, back to her classroom.
When she arrived, Lukas-Noe found her very last group of kindergartners all waiting for her, wearing little white mortarboards like tiny graduates.
When everything settled down, Lukas-Noe, who resides in Orion Township, told this reporter she was “completely overwhelmed” by the school’s unanimous display affection and admiration.
“I’m really at a loss for words,” she said.
When Lukas-Noe started work that day, she told herself, “I’m not going to shed any tears.”
But that all went right out the window when she saw how everyone came together to honor her.
“I tried to keep the tears at bay . . . and it just didn’t happen,” she said. “I am truly grateful for our staff, our parents and our students here at Clear Lake. I’ve had a wonderful career teaching here.”
With the exception of seven years in special education, Lukas-Noe spent most of her time educating Clear Lake’s kindergartners. She believes it truly is the best age to teach.
“They love you, they love coming to school every day, they’re ready to learn new things,” she said. “Their zest for learning is awesome and contagious.”
“If you’re feeling down, all it takes is a couple of those kindergarten hugs and it puts you right back where you should be,” Lukas-Noe added.
Being part of the school’s Green Team is something that’s been near and dear to her heart because she truly believes “we need to be kind to the Earth.”
As a teacher, she’s made it part of her mission to teach kids the importance of caring for the environment and preserving nature. She believes if children are taught that lesson “from the get-go,” they’re more likely to “carry it through for the rest of their lives.”
During the interview, Lukas-Noe opened a door leading to the outside, so one of her students could release a bug found in the classroom.
Lukas-Noe is “definitely” going to miss everyone at Clear Lake because they’ve been so much more to her than just students and co-workers. “Our school has been such a family to me,” she said.
Brad Bigelow, who’s been Clear Lake’s principal for six years, had nothing but glowing praise for Lukas-Noe.
“Diane stands out in a lot of different ways,” he said. “She’s very passionate about what she does. She always advocates for the child.”
Bigelow explained that kindergarten has “changed a lot over the past several years.”
“It’s much more rigorous now than what it once was,” he said.
Lukas-Noe helped her co-workers maintain “perspective” by reminding them that kindergarten isn’t just about preparing kids academically. It’s about “developing the whole child,” which means helping them grow “socially and emotionally” and allowing for fun things such as playtime, Bigelow explained.
“They’re 5-and-6-year-olds,” he said. “Sometimes you forget that.”
Bigelow was consistently impressed by Lukas-Noe’s caring demeanor and “how patient she is.” No matter what was going on in her classroom, she always had the “ability to smile through it” and maintain her composure.
“Her voice never changes,” he said. “It’s that same soft-spoken, sweet voice. Even when she’s correcting a child, it stays the same. That’s something that I’ve always admired and have wondered how she’s able to do that.”
Bigelow was also impressed with Lukas-Noe’s worth ethic during her last year. She never once just phoned it in.
“Quite often, you (could) see her at 6 o’clock at night . . . . still in her classroom, working,” he said. “She knew that she had a job to do and she wanted to do it to the best of her ability. You never would have known that she was retiring.”
It won’t really hit Bigelow that Lukas-Noe is gone until this fall when the school cafeteria serves tater tots – her favorite. He recalled how she would always come into office on tater tot day with a bowl full, “offering them to anyone.”
“It’s just little things like that I’ll miss,” he said.
Lukas-Noe is looking forward to the usual retirement activities, such as catching up on her reading, gardening and spending time with friends.
But most of all, she’s anxious to tackle her new role as grandmother. Her first grandchild, Cameron Inglis, was born a few weeks ago and she plans to spend two days a week babysitting the little guy.
“I’m over the moon (about being a grandmother),” she said. “It’s wonderful. It’s everything people have told me it is.”