Conway retires after long career as elementary teacher
THE TIME IS NOW — After 34 years as an elementary teacher, Mary Conway now has more time to spend in her back yard. (Star Eagle photo by Jessica Lutgens)
By JESSICA LUTGENS
When it comes to teaching, you could say it’s in her blood.
“It’s like this profession was handed to me on a gold platter,” said recent NRHEG retiree Mary Conway.
One of several beloved and longtime staff members bidding adieu to the district this year, Conway dedicated 34 years to her career, although education is something she’s been involved with since she was young.
Born and raised in Waseca, where her mom was a kindergarten teacher for many years, Conway’s motivation behind her career choice is obvious; one of her favorite activities as a child was playing “school” with her sister, and she taught Sunday school.
After graduating from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Conway followed in her mother’s footsteps and began teaching first graders in Sanborn, in Southwest Minnesota.
“I was there for two years,” Conway recalled, “and I only taught 10 kids. It was a tiny, tiny town.”
In 1981 Conway relocated to New Richland, where she taught fourth grade until 1989, when her third child was born, and proceeded to teach third grade until the elementary was moved to Ellendale. She also discovered a fellow Augsburg graduate, Lanae Thorstad, amongst the New Richland staff.
“It was odd that we both ended up at New Richland,” Conway said. “She’s an amazing teacher, and fun to be with.”
The staff camaraderie — along with the students, of course — is just one thing Conway will miss in retirement.
“Bonding with all the staff, the support they have for each other,” she said, “that’ll be the hardest thing this fall.”
Conway’s passion for her work has always been clear – even 12 years ago, when this reporter was in her 3rd grade class – and it remains unwavering in talking with her now. Although not as extroverted as some, Conway has an abundance of kindness and care that leaves a lasting impression.
“My favorite part about teaching,” Conway said, “were the ‘aha’ moments, when kids understand something. It makes you feel worthy of your position. The reward from knowledge being taught is priceless.”
Growing up with a parent as a teacher, Conway had more of an idea what to expect than some might when going into the profession, but she still encountered her fair share of surprises during her years in the classroom. One aspect of education that she would change if possible? Standardized testing, something many teachers object to, with good reason. Not all children learn the same way, making standardized tests potentially inaccurate for students that don’t “test well” due to anxiety or a number of reasons.
“Teaching is more work than people realize,” she said. “You wear a lot of different hats in one day, but it’s very rewarding.”
Not speaking monetary-wise, Conway enjoyed summers off that allowed her to spend more time with her kids; she also learned many valuable life lessons from the ones she taught. She still enjoys talking to former students about their life and remembering when they were in school.
“Students are a product of their environment,” she said. “I learned to be patient, more understanding of differences – and to be a better mother and wife, since they require the same characteristics. Life is too short; take each day as it’s given, don’t focus on the negative, and remember what’s important in life.”
Conway fondly recalled her last day at NRHEG, when her class surprised her with a retirement gift presented by Stacy Stork and Beth Schoenrock.
“I was so shocked,” she said. “I’ll never forget that loving feeling – it was precious. It made me realize the end really was here.”
Deciding to retire was not easy for Conway, but she said the timing this year happened to be right.
“I wanted to retire while I still loved my job,” she commented. “It’s going to be tough not to go back this fall, but it’s time to pass the torch onto the younger generation.”
Conway said she wants to kick back and relax in retirement, though she plans to organize her life a bit, too.
“I’ll just take it one day at a time, see where it takes me,” she said. “Tomorrow always comes, and you find out someone will fill your shoes – good education needs that.”
And education needs more teachers like Mary Conway.