NORWALK, Iowa – A retired teacher from Norwalk has turned her life challenges into life lessons. Carla Becker spent three decades teaching and even helped start a school. 

She impacted thousands of students, and many showed their support when Becker faced her own adversity.

Becker’s story begins with growing up in Norwalk.

“I was the oldest girl in our family,” Becker said. “I had an older brother, and my mother worked nights so I had a lot of responsibility with the younger kids.”

That motherly role helped her find her passion as an educator. After graduating from UNI, Becker came back to her hometown to teach. She helped create a new, non-traditional lab school called the MAC School.

“I applied to teach there and I was chosen,” Becker said. “And actually the six of us did a lot of visiting of schools in places, a lot of research and reading, and we worked with the AEA and we actually got to set the curriculum and set things the way we had envisioned them to be and it was amazing.”

The “multi-age classroom” school introduced a new kind of learning environment where students learned at their own pace.

“It just clicked. I loved the kids. I enjoyed working with them,” Becker said. “I always felt it was part of my job not just to teach the academics, but if there were expectations that I had of how they were to act or things they needed to do, then I needed to teach those things.”

“She’s the type of person who will just take you under her wing and accept you,” DaKeena Becker, Carla’s daughter-in-law said. “And, ‘hey I like you,’ and just show you everything you need to know in life.”

Social and life skills that kids could use in the future, long after the mac school had to close its doors.

“Years later, I still get letters and things from my former students thanking me for doing that and how those kinds of things stayed with them,” Becker said. 

Becker’s work in the classroom made her a finalist for Iowa Teacher of the Year, but like the MAC School her 30-plus year career was cut short. She retired sooner than she wanted to, after being diagnosed with cancer.

“It was Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and it was stage 3. I didn’t know it, but everybody else did that there was an 80-percent chance I wasn’t going to make it,” Becker said. “But I beat it. And there was every chance that I wouldn’t. And for the powers that be I’m still here.”

When Becker was fighting for her life, she remembers the support she received from the people in her life. The experience changed her perspective.

“I got a second chance and it very easily could’ve been I wouldn’t be here now,” Becker said. “So if I only have this one life then I need to be careful about how I live it and what I do with it…For whatever reason, I think I was left here for a reason.”

A reason people in Becker’s life already know.

“She will be the first one in your corner,” DaKeena Becker said. “And she’s the one you want in your corner because she’ll fight for you and she’ll fight with you if there’s some kind of hardship that you’re facing or something you’re unsure of.”

A reason Carla Becker is starting to realize.

“You know some people do amazing things, and I haven’t done anything amazing,” Becker said. “I’ve just lived my life.”

Becker still lives in Norwalk with her husband, Jim. She stays busy cooking meals for families currently facing their own hardships. She also continues to be involved in the school district, by working with other educators to nominate and select alumni for Norwalk’s “Hall of Fame” awards.