Jess Corkern thought she taught Oakwood Elementary students a program honoring others in the school. It turns out she was the one being honored.

A musical program honoring the “Unsung Heroes” at Oakwood Elementary School was led by retiring music teacher, Jess Corkern.

Corkern, though, didn't expect what happened next.

She was seated in front of the students to be honored by a surprise program written just for her.

It was led by the school's physical education teacher, Audra Hull, who co-wrote it with the school principal, Denise Hudson. The songs were chosen to represent each phase of Corkern's 35-year teaching career.

They were enthusiastically sung by the first and second graders who had earlier presented the program led by Corkern, and she laughingly joined in their movements and singing on some songs.

Hull introduced each time period a number represented, such as “I Will Survive” after her first year of teaching. Later songs included “I Feel Good,” “We're Not Gonna Take It” and “Lean On Me.”

After teaching for several years, Hull said, Corkern may have needed to sing, “Don't Stop Believing.”

Closer to retirement, her song might have been, “Another One Bites the Dust.” And at her retirement, first “Celebration” then “School's Out.”

During the scheduled program honoring school staff, Hudson was honored in music by the students for for Principal's Day.

Also honored were school secretaries Helen Roberts and Judy Hodgson, library clerk Sarah Brennan, custodians Albert Gillum and Wes Krigbaum, nurse Natalee Miller, counselor Heather Steitz and four bus drivers.

Corkern later outlined her career, explaining she began and ended by teaching music. After her first music position, she taught elementary school for 28 years, including kindergarten, first, third and fifth grades. Her family lived in Louisiana, California and Missouri while her husband, Dave, served in the ministry.

She had already taught at Oakwood School in Hannibal for 16 years before becoming music teacher. This was seven years ago when her daughter, Jana Gosney, quit teaching to begin her family.

Corkern's future plans include “loving on my grandkids” and continuing music at Hannibal-LaGrange University, where she will be an adjunct in the Education Department. “I will probably substitute” teach for Hannibal schools, she added.

Being honored by the students was a complete surprise, Corkern said. “Coach Hull always helps (at programs) and this year she told me, 'Don't ask what we are doing.'”

Reach reporter Bev Darr at bev.darr@courierpost.com.