Beloved Portsmouth third-grade teacher retires (gallery)

Retiring third-grade teacher Cindy Kneller holds signs — spelling out "Terrific" — that some students had made up in her honor at an assembly at Hathaway Elementary School Friday. Retiring third-grade teacher Cindy Kneller holds signs — spelling out "Terrific" — that some students had made up in her honor at an assembly at Hathaway Elementary School Friday.

Retiring third-grade teacher Cindy Kneller holds signs — spelling out "Terrific" — that some students had made up in her honor at an assembly at Hathaway Elementary School Friday.

Retiring third-grade teacher Cindy Kneller holds signs — spelling out “Terrific” — that some students had made up in her honor at an assembly at Hathaway Elementary School Friday.

PORTSMOUTH — Like every other third-grade teacher, Cindy Kneller has been responsible for instructing her pupils in several different areas of study. What she’s best known for, however, is fostering a great love for writing and storytelling.

On Friday, her last day after 20 years of teaching in the same room at Hathaway Elementary School, Mrs. Kneller was asked what she’ll miss the most.

“I’m going to miss the stories, I think,” she said. “It’s just amazing how over the years we really get inside kids’ souls, when you read their writing.”

Connor Peckham, a seventh-grade student at Portsmouth Middle School, rocks out with the school's jazz band during a performance of holiday tunes at Hathaway Elementary School Friday.

Connor Peckham, a seventh-grade student at Portsmouth Middle School, rocks out with the school’s jazz band during a performance of holiday tunes at Hathaway Elementary School Friday.

Fellow third-grade teacher Pam Hamilton said Mrs. Kneller has a special knack for bringing out the best in her students.

“She is so dedicated to the children,” said Mrs. Hamilton. “She gives up her own personal time to work with them throughout the day. She has such a passion for what she does and she teaches them how to write as if they were in high school or college.”

The kids aren’t the only ones who have benefitted from Mrs. Kneller’s kindness and empathy, she said.

Richard Price, Portsmouth Middle School band director, treats students at Hathaway Elementary School to a solo Friday.

Richard Price, Portsmouth Middle School band director, treats students at Hathaway Elementary School to a solo Friday.

“She loves the school; she considers us her second family,” said Mrs. Hamilton. “She’s a very compassionate person and makes decisions based on making other people happy. She encourages everyone, whether you’re a teacher or a child. She believes that you can do it and she never gives up on anyone.”

Mrs. Hamilton, who’s known Mrs. Kneller for 20 years, is feeling a personal loss in her friend’s retirement.

“I’m going to miss her very much. She’s my go-to person. We would greet each other every morning and my day didn’t start until I saw Cindy. We were there for each other and we’ve been through a lot together these 20 years,” she said.

Holiday cheer spread at assembly

Students at Steppin' Out Dance Studio perform some choreographed moves during a student assembly Friday at Hathaway Elementary School.

Students at Steppin’ Out Dance Studio perform some choreographed moves during a student assembly Friday at Hathaway Elementary School.

The school recognized their departing teacher during a student assembly Friday that also featured holiday music by the Portsmouth Middle School jazz band led by Richard Price, and a performance by the Steppin’ Out Dance Studio. Santa Claus and two of his elves also made an appearance.

The assembly was also used as an occasion to thank students for collecting 652 cans of nonperishable food for needy families. Philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein matched each donated can with a dollar that went back to the school.

Mrs. Kneller was in the spotlight, however. Interim Principal Lisa Little told the students that Mrs. Kneller was largely responsible for the “Terrific Kids” program that recognizes outstanding students at Hathaway.

To return the favor, several students made signs that spelled out “terrific,” with each letter standing for a superlative that best described Mrs. Kneller.

When asked on Friday if she had shed any tears yet. “I’ve cried all fall and I’m sure I’ll cry again,” said Mrs. Kneller, who hopes to spend her retirement doing a lot of sailing and some traveling with her husband, Bill.

But she’ll miss her second family. Thirty years ago, Mrs. Kneller said, her daughter Alyssa was a kindergarten student at Hathaway.

“We moved here in 1981 and everyone said Hathaway is such a family school,” she said.

“It really has been.”

View a gallery of photos from the assembly below.

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