Not just a job: Sandy Armstad retires after 34 years

Charlie Denison

Sandy Armstad delivers the commencement address during Sunday’s graduation. Armstad announced her retirement from Fergus High School earlier this year.
Photo by Charlie Denison

Today is Fergus High School world history and drama teacher Sandy Armstad’s last day of school, ending a 34-year career full of school plays, international travel and relationships she’ll cherish the rest of her life.

Packing up her room, Armstad said it still hasn’t really hit her, but sometimes she feels it coming on.

“Honestly, I’m kind of on automatic pilot,” she said. “When I start to think about it, I get really sad, so right now I just try not to think about it. It’s hard. In many ways, I don’t feel ready to be done, but I’m excited for the next chapter.”

 Next month, Armstad is moving to Missoula, where she will be closer to her granddaughter, Skye.

“I want to be able to go to her school programs and be a part of her life,” Armstad said. “She is the main impetus for my decision.”

If not for Skye, Armstad said she could probably teach another 10 years, but she knows this is the best thing for her.

Of course, that doesn’t make it easy, especially after accepting Siri Pederson’s request to deliver the commencement speech Sunday for the class of 2017.

Armstad said part of her was afraid she wouldn’t be able to make it through the speech without tearing up, but somehow she managed, delivering a speech focused on mindfulness, encouraging students to be present and live in the moment. Quoting Mother Teresa, Armstad told students to “be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”

Delivering such a speech was a powerful experience for Armstad, as it forced her to also be in the moment, celebrating her students and reflecting on her journey as educator.

It’s gone by fast, Armstad told the News-Argus, saying she can’t believe it’s been 34 years since starting her career as an English teacher at FHS in 1983.

During this time she did more than teach, as she directed school plays and led students on adventures through England, France, Spain, Greece, Italy Mexico and elsewhere.


Forming a special bond

Travel has always been a big part of Armstad’s life and an important part of her profession, as many relationships have formed through international adventures.

“I’ve built so many special relationships through the trips abroad,” Armstad said. “Some of the students through the years have kept in touch, which has been amazing. Students have told me I made them want to study history or I made them want to travel. One student wrote me a card saying they have visited 27 countries and it was because of my class. That’s amazing. I’ve really had an awesome job.”

Having students involved in the plays has also formed some unique bonds, Armstad said, as she got to see so many students shine who would not have had the opportunity to do so otherwise. Similarly, many of her actors and actresses have kept in touch.

“So many friendships have been built through the years, and it’s these relationships that I treasure,” Armstad said.  “It makes me certain this is what I was supposed to do.”


Making an impression

Armstad said knowing she’s made an impact in the lives of some of her students is what teaching is all about. She didn’t set out to just share information; she wanted to empower the students to find themselves and be themselves, whether they are academic achievers or not.

“I have always been very accepting of my students,” Armstad said. “I’ve always loved students who aren’t necessarily mainstream, and I feel like I can relate to them.  I’ve always wanted students to know it’s OK to be different. Do your own thing. Being able to get that message across is a legacy I’m proud to leave behind.”

Wanting to share the importance of acceptance, Armstad said it’s also a goal of hers to “think about the world in a different way” and “be a little bit more open-minded and tolerant of other peoples’ ideas.”

“I don’t try to change their ideas, but I try to get them to understand there is a different way of looking at things,” Armstad said.


A new beginning

The school year has ended and Armstad has moved out of her room. If it hasn’t hit her yet, it will soon.

At first, it might just feel like any other summer, but – even on autopilot – she knows her new life waits, changing not just her profession, but also her identity.

“Being a teacher is not just a job,” she said. “I’ve been Mrs. Armstad and,  now, I’m going to be Grandma.”







What is your favorite part of the Fair?