by Dr. Jill Klefstad - Grandma school - former UW Stout faculty
“Time flies when you are having fun.” My teaching career began in a kindergarten classroom in 1980 in a small rural town. I remember loving everything about teaching: the children, the families, my colleagues, and the sense of accomplishment. The years passed quickly providing opportunities that I never had imagined and embracing them all without hesitation. In the blink of an eye, or so it seemed, after 34 years in education, I found myself contemplating retirement. I must admit, I was not one of those lifelong planners who had a pre-set date to retire. In all honesty, I never thought I would live that long to even experience retirement, but here I am. Time….it flies past you in a blink of an eye.
During my retirement celebration, several colleagues asked me what my greatest accomplishments were, and what would I miss about being a teacher. Without hesitation I was able to respond that my greatest accomplishments were the relationships I developed with students throughout the years, earning my doctorate, and working with the men in early childhood education. It was also easy to articulate that what I miss the most are the opportunities to collaborate with teachers who share a strong work ethic and deep conviction for children. I also miss student’s sense of curiosity and wonder, and I miss the challenge of learning.
It started with Kindergarten
While my career began teaching kindergarten, I taught only eight years in the public school and then took a sabbatical to raise my own four children. After five years, I decided to work toward a master’s degree. This took some juggling, but I accomplished that goal. Upon earning my master’s degree and finding out I was overqualified for a public-school position, the nearby university offered me a part time teaching job that included the opportunity to supervise student teachers. I discovered that I enjoyed teaching at this level and earned the ‘teacher of the year’ award after three years. This award was overshadowed by the department chair questioning me to state exactly what my philosophy of education was. As a result of her question, I began to pursue a doctorate degree in education earning the degree in less than four years. I then was hired in the department of early childhood education at the local university.
Male studentsThe greatest accomplishment in my time at the university was the work I did with male students in early childhood education. I connected with the men in the program and listened to how they felt marginalized and not valued. I saw the rich differences and talents they brought to classroom discussions and to children’s learning. I found myself advocating for them at various level but most importantly, they came to trust me. Together we created a Men in Education organization on campus, and I continued to work hard to obtain funding that provided them with local and national level opportunities to participate in. The men who were active participants in the group are now successful early childhood education teachers.
When one retires, it is recommended to avoid committing to anything for a year but for me, I knew I had to be doing something. I am fortunate that my son and family live close and asked me if I was interested in hosting a ‘Grandma School’. So, I spend two mornings a week with Levi (4 years) and Harriet (2 years) creating meaningful play opportunities for them. I have regressed to being the kindergarten teacher I once was! One extra bonus is that I also get to cuddle baby Arthur (4 months) who will be attending grandma school before we know it. I am reminded about how children learn and their excitement in learning when the environment is appropriate, engaging, and loving. It is sometimes said that being a grandparent is one of the very best things in life and I must agree. While I loved being a mom and teacher, I absolutely treasure this time of being a grandma.
Substitute teacher and Supervision
Along with Grandma school, I decided to offer my services as a substitute teacher in the district I once taught in. I also continue my role as supervisor of student teachers which provides the opportunity to be in the public schools while mentoring student teachers. It is ironic how supervision came full circle beginning in 1993 to present. As a supervisor to student teachers, I also serve as a support and advocate to the teachers. Times are tough, teachers are tired, and the pandemic is taking a toll on teachers. Their struggles are real and often include: the perceived lack of administrative encouragement, change in parental support, demands of new standardized curriculums, meetings with no clear purpose or end, and student’s mental health and behaviors. There is a circle of constituents including administrators, school boards, principals, teachers, parents, and children who require accountability from one another yet often lack support and trust of each other.
Forward to new teaching
Retirement may have taken me out of the university system but once a teacher always a teacher rings true. Currently I am feeling a pull to find ways to support my colleagues in the field. Thus, I am formulating a mini research study that will connect me to my former students who are teachers. My goal is to visit their classrooms and simply ask them, “what do you need from me”? When my data set is complete, I will share the results with our state superintendent and ask her, “what do you need from me”? The teaching profession is at high risk and imminent changes need to occur to secure passionate teachers in their position of service. I want to be part of the solution and give back to a profession that has served me well.
My days in retirement thus far are not at all what I envisioned but I truly believe that I am living my best life! I guess you can say that time does fly when you are having fun.
[MenTeach: Dr. Jill has been working to increase and retain men in her former education program.]