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home : news : news October 4, 2015

6/6/2013 2:37:00 PM
Hjermstad: Kids haven't changed but technology sure has!

As a child growing up in Wastedo Country, south of Urland Church, far from every town, I longed to see the world.  I was two inches too short to be a flight attendant, so I had to think of something else.  I loved school, and at CFHS I joined the Future Teachers of America.  Volunteering in elementary classrooms with Miss Sowers, Miss Pemberton, and Mrs. Strack gave me the experience and confidence I needed to pursue a career in education.  Mr. Svedberg made sure I had all the scholarships and loans I needed to make it a reality at Mankato State College. This didn't lead to world travel, but to a very satisfying work life, nonetheless.

When the Wastedo consolidation created the need for an extra section of sixth grade in 1970, Dr. Brynildson, Mr. Edel, and the school board gave me the opportunity to teach that class.  The room was tiny, on the third floor of the oldest 1893 section of the school.  Mini skirts were in fashion, and the blackboard was set up for a high school classroom.  I could only reach about half of the board, and modesty wouldn't let me stretch even that high to write.  There was room only for the student desks and a teacher desk.  We used textbooks, paper, pencils, and a few art supplies.  The room was on the south, very hot, and a haven for wasps.  I remember worrying about a fire and hoping I never had to take the class down the fire escape that was just outside of the window.

Consolidation with Vasa the following summer exiled the sixth grade to Vasa for ten years.  It's easy to be nostalgic about those days.  Yes, there was freedom to do things like have weiner roasts and go for walks in the spring, but there were limitations, too.  The library was very small, and the school day was short because of the bus ride.  There were always special projects like solar cookers, string art, and basket weaving.  The wasps were replaced by flies, especially during manure-spreading season.  There was a ditto machine for making those purple-inked copies, but only the secretary was allowed to use it.

In the fall of 1981 the sixth grade moved back to Cannon Falls, this time to the second floor of a newer (1910) part of the old building.  The classroom was much bigger, on the north side of the school.  The wood floor was buckled at the front of the room, creating a bump several inches high.  It was during this time that we first learned a little about computers.

The voters approved a referendum for a new elementary school, so in 1989 grades K-6 moved to the new building east of the high school.  The new classroom had ample plug-ins, carpeting, and a sink!  The overhead projector was a big improvement in instruction.  The teacher could write while facing the class and have the material projected on a large screen!  We used computers more and more.  After a time, the school board voted to include sixth grade in the middle school.  With the recent building improvements and addition to the high school, coupled with smaller classes, sixth grade moved again-this time to the high school. 

From the very start, the sixth grade teachers worked as a team.  I was lucky to witness excellent teaching by my early colleagues.  Some I remember from those early days are Lou Schulz, Nancy Mills, Karl Tomfohr, Dave O'Keeffe, Jerry Ritter, Gerri Frettem, and Irene Waltman.  Although fluctuations in enrollment numbers and retirements have brought new staff to sixth grade, the team concept has remained constant and important to the present day.  We have always had excellent support staff, too many to list here.

In all of these years, one thing has been constant, and that is change.  It seems there is always someone or some group that thinks they know what should be taught in school, how to teach it, and how to test it.  Just when an idea or program is going well (or not), someone decides there is a better way.  That's both the bad and the good news.  It's comfortable to do things a certain way because "we've always done it that way."  That attitude can develop into a rut, but change shakes it up.  By being forced to constantly review/revise what is being taught, there is always a continuous motion of improvement. 

I've been through Behavioral Objectives, Learning Opportunity for Teachers, Madeline Hunter, Outcome Based Education, No Child Left Behind, now the Core Curriculum with Power Standards and Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies, and probably more that I don't remember.  By keeping the good from the old and adding the new, hopefully progress has been positive.

Sixth graders themselves haven't changed too much since 1970.  They are a fun age and love to learn new things.  Certainly today there is more opportunity for them to participate in activities, and the world is at their fingertips with technology.  When a question or topic arises in class, we can Google it and even display the result for all to see on the classroom SMART board in a few moments.  Technology is revolutionizing education, along with every other aspect of our lives.

I have loved sharing my love of reading with the students and teaching the importance of using correct and precise language.  Beyond the academics, I hope they will lead a fulfilling and productive life filled with love and respect.  Make the world a better place.  Be a builder, not a wrecker.  Keep a sense of humor! 

It's hard to pin down a favorite part of teaching.  I must say that there is never a dull moment.  Teaching is challenging and not boring!  Each year it's like a new job-new students, new materials and concepts to teach, etc.  I am so grateful to the community and school for the opportunity I have had to be involved in this noble profession, the one that makes all others possible.

I will, however, enjoy the freedom of retirement.  Even during the summer, a teacher is often thinking of the next year, taking classes or working on new projects.  It's always on my mind.  Now I'll be thinking more about fishing with my husband Bob, spending more time with our family and grandchildren, working more on that genealogy project I started way back when, and doing some volunteering.  I'll probably wonder when I ever had time to work!

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