April 9, 2007

After 34 years, LP math teacher will put Euclid on the shelf

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

John Halverson, Lester Prairie High School math teacher, will retire at the end of the 2007 school year.

He is packing up his many books, including those on Euclid, the Greek mathematician, and the Pythagorean Theorem, subjects he has taught for 34 years.

As Halverson explains, “Education is a funny occupation. Other jobs, you kind of graduate up the ladder. In teaching, you start out in pretty much the same position as when you finish – in the classroom, teaching the same materials, only you are 30 years older.”

When school ends in June, he is heading to his lake home a few miles outside of Longville, Minn. He and his wife, Patricia, have owned a home on Woman Lake for 15 years. He is in the middle of a five-year renovation plan – the kitchen is his next project.

Remodeling is something John enjoys doing and he is looking forward to having the time to do a lot more of it.

Last summer was the first time John has really had any free time away from school activities since 1973.

That was the year both he and Patricia graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato. They had been dating since they first met, their sophomore year at Kiester High School in southern Minnesota.

At the time, Kiester had a population of about 600 and their graduating class had 39 students in it.

They continued dating while attending college in Mankato and got married their senior year.

The plan was for John to get his job first. “Patricia was a registered nurse and nurses were in high demand at the time,” he said.

He had never heard of Lester Prairie when he applied for the school’s math teaching position. He just applied at any school that had a teaching position open; and any place that would give him a call back for an interview, he went.

“There were lots of people doing the same thing,” John said. “There were 50 people who applied in Lester Prairie for that teaching job. There were so many math teachers applying when I would go to some of those schools. They would be little bitty schools like Strandquist and Byron, and there were just tons of applicants and the schools had their pick of who they wanted to bring in to teach.”

John had one thing that Lester Prairie really needed at the time – experience in wrestling. They needed a wrestling coach, and he thinks that was what made the difference between himself and the other applicants.

“The conference had changed and Lester Prairie and Silver Lake were joining the Crow Hawk conference. One of the new requirements was to have a wrestling program, so both schools had to start wrestling in 1973.”

John had been wrestling since he was in seventh grade. His success, according to John, was that he was small.

“In those years, there was a class of 95 pounds. When I was in about ninth grade, I didn’t even weigh 95 pounds yet. I was an older kid wrestling in a weight class with younger kids and I had experience.”

He was able to go to the state tournament his sophomore, junior, and senior years.

Those were years when there was only one class. For John to go to state from southern Minnesota’s Keister High School, he had to beat all of the big-town wrestlers from schools like Mankato and Blue Earth.

His junior year John won one match at state. He lost a total of three, one for each year. “In those years, as soon as you lost, you were done. You didn’t get another chance to wrestle back. But it was a big deal for me to come from southern Minnesota and get a chance to wrestle on the Williams Arena floor,” he said.

When John was offered the position as math teacher and wrestling coach at Lester Prairie by Arthur O’Neil, superintendent at the time, he was very grateful.

“As soon as I was hired, Patricia applied over in Hutchinson and got a job almost immediately. It was a good fit for both of us.”

To begin teaching John said it is “sink or swim.”

“It is a tough occupation. You are put in a classroom with six class periods, only two minutes or three minutes before each hour. The kids come in vibrating, especially in the junior high.”

Still, in all of John’s years of teaching, he never thought of leaving.

“As the years go along, you gain more gravity – a little more reason to stay in the same spot,” John said.

“Teaching has been so gratifying for me. I was so lucky to be given a chance to come into a school like this and be able to do all of the sports that I did. To be able to have my kids grow up, to be able to be in the same building that I was in.”

However, John will be glad to clean out his classroom and not have to worry about planning for mathematical state mandates and tests for the following school year.

Over the years, John has found it has become more and more important to know what the state requires for testing. There are not as many choices for teachers to make regarding what they can teach.

“Math has gone round and round. We have gone from the old traditional math, and new math, and it has gone back to the basics. I think we have gone round and round three times since I started teaching mathematics,” he said.

John sees many more opportunities available for students in math and science today. During the ‘60s, students who did well in those subjects went into education because there wasn’t a lot of other things to go into. He also thought, when he was considering his career choices, there seemed to be more of a wish to help others.

“In the ‘60s, a lot of us had more social consciousness. We went into public service. People were in the mode of thinking about others and money was not the highest thing on your list. Nowadays, that isn’t true.”

“Today’s kids who are able to do higher levels of math skills want to get paid for it. For the kids today, money means a lot. Social services is not their thing,” he added.

John’s annual starting pay was $7,350. His advice to students interested in teaching is to supplement their income by working outside of the classroom.

John made ends meet by working at roofing in the summer – something he had learned from his father, who was a contractor.

He also accepted other coaching positions he was offered.

He became the coach of the junior high football team that first fall. He had already accepted the position as wrestling coach when he first applied to teach, and went from football to wrestling. When wrestling season was over, it was time to work with the elementary wrestling students.

“There wasn’t any wrestling here and I thought one of the best ways for me to build up the program was to teach the kids when they were young,” John said.

The elementary program started in first grade after school. It was a big success and most of the kids stayed with the program through the elementary years. The program would last about a month, three days a week. When kids entered seventh grade, they knew something about wrestling.

By the time elementary wrestling was over, John was offered a coaching position for seventh and eighth grade track.

“I went year-round from one sport to the next.”

In 2000, when the Halversons’ oldest son, Marcus, was helping with wrestling and their youngest son, Alek, was graduating from Lester Prairie High School, he decided it was time to find out “if there is life after 3 p.m.”

He was finding it harder and harder to get kids to come out for wrestling and track. Football was never a problem, but the other sports required so much commitment and it seemed to John that the kids just were not ready to dedicate themselves to those sports.

“When my kids started sports, they went into it because they wanted to. When my kids grew up, the neighborhood was always full of little kids playing baseball or football. There were always things going on, all summer long. Kids didn’t have all of the stuff that kids have today. Four-wheelers, snowmobiles, and Game Boys. They played outside, and when they had the chance to go out for sports, all the kids went out,” John said.

He began resigning his coaching positions with wrestling in 2002. Then in 2003, he quit track, and in 2004, he quit junior high football.

He has found it relaxing when 3 p.m. arrives and he can just shut his classroom door and leave.

John has been at Lester Prairie so long that he has taught and coached children of parents who were his previous students and athletes.

“The kids have grown up. It has been kind of nice. I have been here so long, that I am almost on the third generation.”

“They are good kids,” John said. “These are kids like the kids that I grew up with. They have ambition. They want to get something out of school to take with them.”

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