BITTERSWEET GOOD BYE — Though retiring third-grade teacher Susan DenHerder has some definite plans for retirement, nothing can replace her day-to-day interaction with students. (Star Eagle photo by Rachel Rietsema)
By RACHEL RIETSEMA
The NRHEG third-grade classroom hasn’t experienced a drastic change in about 23 years. So, this upcoming school year, things will be a little bit different without long-time teacher Mrs. Susan DenHerder.
“I’ll still be Mrs. DenHerder,” she said. “I will still hear it on the street and in the grocery store too. I’ll hear it just about everywhere.”
Actually, she will still answer to that formal address in the classroom next year and for years to come, as she isn’t saying a full-time goodbye to the district just yet.
“If they need someone to sub in the library, with the preschoolers or any classroom, I’m game,” DenHerder said.
Sure, this semi-retired educator may have had a difficult time letting go of her title, but in the long run, she knew it needed to happen.“Last fall, whenever I would talk to Doug Anderson about it, I’d be in tears,” DenHerder said. “By Christmas time, I think it sunk in that it was the right thing to do.”
Left with no reservations whatsoever, she has some pretty relaxing summer plans up her sleeve.
“Just in general, I’m going to spend time with Mom,” DenHerder said. “I also plan to take out those stacks of books I haven’t read, garden and spend time at the lake.”
Her grandchildren will play a huge part in the outline of her daily agenda as well. But, in the midst of quality time spent with family, she will miss all of her students dearly.
“They always came with bright eyes and a quest for knowledge,” DenHerder said. “The look in their eyes when they understood what I was teaching them was amazing.”
The lifelong friendships with staff members, she still plans to nurture outside of the hallways and conference room.
“They are the ones that would really see me through on tough days,” DenHerder said. “We had a lot of fun together.”
DenHerder further explained, “This past year, I taught a little non-English-speaking girl,” DenHerder said. “If I was tired or didn’t feel good, Natalie would always come in and say I love you. I always knew she would be there.”
Tears well up just thinking about how much fun she had with each and every student. She just loves little kids.
“They come up with the craziest things and have the greatest answers,” DenHerder said. “In a roundabout way, I eventually came to learn what was special to them, what they liked and what they didn’t like.”
Every single day, students also blew her socks off away with their ability to solve problems outside the box. It still boggles her mind.
“I’m such a concrete person,” DenHerder said. “So, in math when the students showed me how they came up with the answer from a whole different angle the book had, I found that so interesting.”
Inspiring that creativity often times stemmed from incentives. One such reward she created for good behavior was sitting at the teacher’s desk.
“That was always a special treat,” DenHerder said. “Over the years, there was always bubble gum, sitting by a friend and no-homework passes. For example, if they got a bad grade on a math worksheet, they would give that to me and I’d give them an A.”
The class also worked together as a team to earn points for an end of the month movie, kickball or softball session, etc.
“One time, we read a story called Thunder Cake,” DenHerder said. “It’s a cake that must be baked as you hear the thunder rolling into the farm. It had some of the craziest things in it and the kids couldn’t believe how good it was.”
Whoever takes her spot, or any new teachers for that matter, she encourages to ask for help whenever necessary. Don’t be afraid to share new ideas either.
“I just hope that we as a veteran’s staff are very willing to listen to and help the newbies,” DenHerder said. “I remember my very first day of teaching in Lake Benton, MN. The excitement was overwhelming. I was so scared.”
Aside from the innovative ideas, bring your excitement to the classroom. Students of any age will feed off of that.
“From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher, “DenHerder said. “That was the only thing I ever wanted to do. Always.”