By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Six Royalton Elementary teachers with more than 210 years of cumulative teaching experience are stepping down June 4. And even though some wanted to duck out without any fanfare, many feel it’s fitting to recognize these women who have influenced more than one generation of Royalton residents.
“It’s a very stable school district,” said Elaine Selinger. “A lot of young people leave, but when they have children, they come back.”
“We’ve all taught second generations now,” said Susan Sartell.
“I was brought up in a small town and Royalton reminds me of that,” said Lila Heins. “We’ve had a supportive, friendly staff; I felt like I ‘fit’ here.”
“The nice thing about a small school is seeing the kids progress,” said Selinger. “And the kids feel safe here.”
“We all started around the same time and have a lot of things in common,” said Linda Zimmer.
The teachers all began their teaching careers in the mid to late 1970s, many of them spending their entire careers at Royalton.
“Everyone knows all the students; it’s like our own mini community at the school,” said Becky Neuman.
What has changed the most is the size of classes. “When we started, there were as many as 36 first graders,” said Selinger. “The Board and the administration really made an effort to reduce class sizes.”
“I had 33 kindergartners one year,” Neuman said.
Reminiscing about what used to be, the teachers recalled having to hand-crank the mimeograph machine to make the purple-printed copies. “And there were no phones in the classrooms,” said Heins.
One of the biggest positives has been strong fundraising, Zimmer said.
Selinger pointed out how Royalton has really kept up with technology.
Another big change has been the skills kids are expected to know. “When I first started with the first graders they were able to count to maybe 50 and know 12-15 sight words when the school year started,” said Selinger. “Now nearly all can count to 100 and they can read many more words.”
“But the kids themselves haven’t changed,” said Heins. “They still need someone to sit down and read with them, to listen to them.”
They agreed that there are some characteristics necessary for teachers to have, including being able to make snap decisions. A sense of humor is essential.
Several shared that the most rewarding moments are those when students are able to master new skills, seeing the expressions on their faces.
“Teaching is exhausting but never boring,” said Selinger.
Many wanted to teach because of the inspiration of other teachers in their lives.
“I wanted to be a teacher because of the kindness and sense of humor in the teachers I had growing up,” said Sartell.
Others had sisters, mothers, aunts, godmothers or grandmothers who had been teachers. And they concurred that enjoying time spent with children was the the most important factor.
“One summer when I was in elementary school, I held a small, weekly preschool class at my house for the neighborhood children,” said Neuman.
Although they have enjoyed their years of teaching immensely, there are perks to being retired.
“I am looking forward to not commuting and having more time for my mom,” said Heins.
Neuman will be watching her grandchildren part-time.
Selinger lives near St. Cloud Hospital and will be volunteering there and at the St. Cloud Library, as well as spending more time with siblings, nieces and nephews.
Just staying at home for a bit will be nice for Heins and Sartell. Then, Sartell wants to learn how to knit and play the oboe, and work on other hobbies already around her home.
Heins is looking forward to finding a part-time job, something different.
Several piped up to say that “no homework” will be good too.
“But we’re still going to get together,” said Selinger. “On the first day of school in September, we’ll have breakfast together.”
“None of us went into education for the money,” said Selinger. “Teaching to me has never seemed like a job.”
They all agreed that no two days were alike.
“In a way, a teacher is her own boss,” said Heins. “Even though there are certain things that have to be taught, and certain activities to do, we can decide how to do them — we’ve had that freedom.”
They are grateful for the relationships formed over the years with students, colleagues, parents and friends.
“These friendships run deep,” said Heins.
“What is most satisfying is hearing that something I said or did stuck with a child even years later,” said Sartell.
“We are grateful to them for all their work over the years; it’s been great working with them,” said Principal Dr. Phil Gurbada. “They are a dedicated group of people and made many contributions to the school. They made a difference to the kids they worked with, and we will miss them.”