After 40 years in education, all but three of those years in Gretna, local play pro legend Carole Carraher has retired from Gretna Public Schools.
When she first got into teaching, Carraher said she envisioned she would stay with it for a few years.
“Since then, I have loved my job and known this is where I was supposed to be,” she said. “I wish more people could see the goodness and value of becoming an educator.”
In the late ‘70s, when Carraher graduated from high school, the norm for women was to either stay home and get married, or become a hairdresser, a secretary, a nurse or a teacher, she said.
“I picked teaching, primarily because I love to read,” she said. “I read 400 novels when I was in seventh grade. I loved English classes, speech, drama. It was a really natural segue to go into teaching English language arts.
Carraher attended Kearney State College, earning an English language arts degree, which allowed her to teach English, speech, drama and journalism. She taught at West Holt High School in Atkinson, Nebraska for three years, before coming to Gretna.
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At Gretna, Carraher started out as an English teacher, getting involved immediately with theater. She directed a fall play, the One Act, co-directed a musical and coached the speech team in her first few years.
“I taught primarily every freshman who went through these doors for many years,” she said. She also taught sophomore and junior English along the way, as well as a speech and drama class.
She coached the speech team for more than 20 years, but stopped when she moved from teacher to guidance counselor nearly 10 years ago.
Carraher said she transitioned into guidance because it seemed to be a “natural segue,” allowing her to continue to work with youth while freeing her from the constant grading of papers.
“At first I felt like a fish out of water because I missed the classroom so much, but I’ve transitioned to it,” she said.
Somewhere along the way, the fall play was cut, and a tradition of success was born. Carraher led the Gretna One Act program to massive success, overseeing the production since she came to GPS in the mid-80s. She had worked with the One Act at her first teaching job and it was part of her job description when hired at Gretna.
“I really knew nothing about directing but I grew to love it,” Carraher said. She began attending every play she could, “devouring” the theater available in Omaha. “I loved the process of starting with words on a page and making them cove alive on stage. I greatly value the process of working together side by side with students and other directors toward a common goal.
Play production changed with Carraher in Gretna, growing from handful of participants to 100.
“We have become, hands down, the pioneers and front-runners of play production in Nebraska,” she said. “People wanted to be like us. My kids, somewhere along the way early on, they bought in and we just went for it and continue to go for it every single year. It’s so much, but so fulfilling and so much fun. It’s been one of the best parts of my entire life, the relationships and memories I’ve made with these kids.”
Now, the GHS Theater is one of Carraher’s “favorite places on earth.”
“I’m so proud of what my speech and drama kids have done,” she said. “We have broken every record, but bigger than that, I’m so proud of what products they have created, we have created.”
After 40 years working with high school students, the timing of retirement seemed right, Carraher said.
“I love working with high school kids,” Carraher said. “I think 14 to 18 year olds are some of the most amazing people on the planet. I love their potential and promise, their personalities, connecting with them.
“I think teaching gets a bad rap. For me, it has been the best career path I could have ever taken. Every year is a little different. There’s a lot of peace and satisfaction know that I am having a future effect on this world. Everybody tends to think that teachers are poor and have a horrible life, but I am so rich and have such a wonderful life, because I have worked with high school students for 40 years.
“I’ve also loved my counseling work because it has allowed me to help people on a daily basis. That’s really fulfilling.”
In retirement, Carraher hopes to travel with her husband, spend time with her mother, spend time with friends and “see where life takes me.”
She is hopeful that she will continue to teach an ACT prep class and come back to help with One Act teams down the road.
“I have been both lucky and blessed to work in this school and this community for the last 37 years,” she said. “I’m grateful for the best administration ever. It’s been an amazing job and amazing life for me.”