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When I started teaching at NRHEG in 1996, there were 13 new teachers hired. That number has certainly dwindled over the years, and at the end of this year, that number remaining will stand at five.

We’re losing one of that lucky number as Richard Ellerbusch heads off to retirement. Mr. Ellerbusch came to teaching later in life from some time as a nurse. He jumped right in the same time as me and immediately stood out as an outstanding math teacher.

Richard has always had that amazing ability to connect with kids and find ways to explain some complex mathematical concepts in ways that those who want to put in a little work will understand. I daresay he could take somebody like me who hasn’t cracked a math book in over 20 years and help me remember how to solve for x.

When you lose somebody of such high quality, the fear is always how you replace such a person. Mr. Ellerbusch submitted his retirement early, but math teachers are hard to find. Some of his former students begged him to come back for another year, and we joked with him that he’d have to be his own long-term substitute next year if we couldn’t find anybody. Luckily, the district found an experienced person to take his place.

Experience speaks to so much in education and in many other occupations. You get better and better the more you do something. It’s not that starting teachers can’t be great, but there’s a certain trial and error period to really figure out just how to work with those young faces in front of you every day. Richard seemed to have that knack right from the start.

I have fond memories of serving as volleyball line judge across the court from Richard in our early years. We used to joke that we were named all-conference line judges when we got asked to do a playoff game at Gustavus. Funny, though, they never asked us back again…

And when you want to talk about experience, you need to look a little longer at our retirement list this year. We’re also losing Marilyn Dobberstein and LaDona Flowers. While Mrs. Flowers has remained as a full-time Family and Consumer Science teacher, Mrs. Dobberstein has also been in charge of community education for a long time, even sharing some of that time with USC in recent years, but when I started she was also teaching FACS in Ellendale.

My wife and I figured out that Marilyn is the final remaining teacher in the district that Michelle had for a class. There are a few folks who were her coaches, but the rest of the teachers from that era are gone. Marilyn has done so much behind the scenes over the years, especially with enhancing community education. She’s also had to deal with kids in our middle school catch-up room at lunch, trying to motivate them to get late work finished, not an enviable task.

When Marilyn and I both taught in the Ellendale building, I could’ve sworn that our air vents led directly from one room to the other. Any time the kids were baking cookies, it was difficult not to start drooling from the smell that wafted through the airwaves. Luckily, she’d always pick some kids whom she knew had done a good job to bring some warm chocolate chip cookies across the hall.

Mrs. Flowers has been our senior staff member, and I’ve gotten to know her better since I switched buildings and also during our time together as union negotiators. She has always known the intricacies of health insurance, and her experience in that area was always a tremendous help to our members.

And in the classroom, she has diversified over the years, creating unique classes, including her award-winning Internet Investing class. FACS is not the home economics that so many of us remember from our youth. Kids do a lot more than cook and sew these days, thanks in part to LaDona’s willingness to expand and look for new opportunities. The FACS position was another one that the district thought might be tough to fill based on very few graduates in that area, but Mrs. Flowers worked with her contacts to help us land somebody for next year.

We’re losing over 100 years of teaching experience with these three quality teachers, but we look forward to welcoming new folks on board who will hopefully stick around for a long time and help cement the school board’s goal of making NRHEG a school district of choice. Retaining great teachers, like those retiring, in the people who fill those spots for many years will go a long way toward that.

Congratulations on your retirements! The school won’t be the same without you. Even scarier is the five of us who remain from the “class” of 1996 are moving farther up the seniority chart! Good luck!


Word of the Week: This week’s word is potch, which means a slap or spank, as in, “The retiring teachers realized that a potch to a student was perfectly acceptable discipline when they began in the classroom.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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