Creative approach defines Evanston kindergarten teacher’s celebrated career
Dale Matten. | Contributed photo
NAME: Dale Matten
BEST KNOWN AS: “Superstar Teacher” Matten
Updated: September 4, 2012 10:31AM
EVANSTON — Entering Dale Matten’s kindergarten classroom in Evanston was like stepping into the pages of a beloved children’s book.
On some days it had transformed into a sea full of colorful fish or a prehistoric land of dinosaurs.
Every November the Lincolnwood School room resembled a Native-American community with handmade tee-pees, feathered headbands and paper buffalo hides scattered about.
“The unit of study became the whole room,” Matten said. “In kindergarten it’s really important to have fun while you’re learning.
“Sometimes that message is forgotten.”
Matten, a Lincolnwood resident, retired from Evanston/Skokie School District 65 the past summer after two decades at Lincolnwood School.
She left a warm imprint on a countless number of people, demonstrated by the family, friends, and colleagues who were eager to ensure her use of creativity and play to teach Evanston youngsters would remain long after she had gone.
To honor her career they purchased a bronze sculpture of two children reading a book on a bench with a plaque dedicated to “Superstar Teacher” Matten. The statue sits outside the school, below the window of her former classroom.
Matten said the gesture made her think of the late Cubs player Ron Santo, who waited three decades before being posthumously elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
To be honored in her lifetime, she said, was “very nice.”
Over the years Matten’s art skills spilled beyond the kindergarten room she called her own. She created elaborately themed bulletin board and window displays on the walls outside her classroom, down the hall and up the stairs.
“She created a warm, safe, loving environment, which all the students felt,” said Lincolnwood School principal Fred Hunter.
He said Matten contributed to the school as much as the teaching profession, as she continued to focus on developing the whole child while test-score data increasingly became the measurement of student success.
“She strongly believed in creative play and made sure kids had the opportunity to grow and learn,” he said.
Her oldest class of Lincolnwood School students is now in their mid-20s. Many have returned over the years to visit. Sometimes she bumps into them outside the school, like at the Ravinia for a concert a few weeks back.
Though her students were only 5 or 6 years old at the time, they remember that first year in school with Matten as their teacher, she said.
“I think that kindergarten, more than any other grade, holds a special spot in people’s hearts,” she said.
Lincolnwood School is special for Matten’s family, too. Her middle son, Kevin, taught for four years at the school during her tenure.
She said parents used to say if their child had Matten for kindergarten and Kevin for fifth grade, they had received “the best bookends of education.”
Working with her son and hearing him say “Hi, Mom,” in the hallways was one of the best things that happened in her career, she said.
She said Kevin has fond memories of that time, too, as she introduced him to a teacher’s aid, who is now his wife and the mother of their 1-year-old daughter.
Though officially retired, Matten has visited the school regularly over the summer, and plans to return to do holiday crafts with the students in December.
“I’m still finding some excuse or another to go into my room,” she said.