By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie sixth grade teacher David Klitzke loved school when he was a child growing up in Hutchinson, and he has spent his 35-year career in Lester Prairie trying to make school fun for his students.
In the days before he retired, Klitzke (or “Mr. K.” as he is known by his students) shared some observations of his long career.
“Teaching isn’t any easier today than it was 35 years ago,” he said, adding that while teachers face challenges every year, the profession continues to offer many rewards.
“It seems each year teachers are working with more children who are needy, lonely, or neglected. I have tried to always provide a fun place for children to be,” Klitzke commented.
He said everyone knows that he has a sense of humor, but while he may joke and tell stories, each day requires thorough planning, and the bottom line is that he has high expectations for his students to learn the material.
“This is more important today than ever before,” Klitzke said. “I try to instill in them that to get a good job in today’s world will be difficult without a good education.”
Education is something that continues throughout life, Klitzke said.
“My biggest pet peeve with students is when they have ability and potential and fail to use it. It is so wasteful,” he commented.
The hardest part about teaching, according to Klitzke, is dealing with kids who have given up.
“It’s frustrating. I like to think I can reach all of them, but I have to realize that it isn’t possible. All you can do is try,” he said.
When Klitzke began his teaching career, the only standardized tests that were used in Lester Prairie were the Iowa basics.
“We corrected them ourselves. When we went on our class trip, we would bring them along and correct them on the bus while the kids were at Como Park.”
“We also served as bus security, since Walter Schultz, our bus driver, went out and hunted morel mushrooms. He always came back with at least half of a grocery bag full, but he never told us where he got them,” Klitzke said.
Today, he said, there is much more emphasis on test scores.
“Schools, communities, and teachers are often judged on these scores,” Klitzke said. “The public needs to realize that all schools try to do the best they can, but there are extenuating circumstances that make this an unachievable goal.”
Teachers do a lot to help kids grow up outside of the domain of the classroom, he added.
“To blame teachers for children’s failures is like blaming a dentist for having a cavity,” Klitzke said.
A lot of things have changed since Klitzke began his teaching career in Lester Prairie.
When he was hired in 1974, teachers were expected to live in town.
“There really was no housing available,” Klitzke said.
Even if housing had been available, he added, it would have stretched his $8,200 starting salary.
Eventually, he did move to Lester Prairie, and for many years has lived across the street from the school.
Male teachers were expected to wear sport coats, and women were expected to wear dresses or skirts when Klitzke began his career.
Teachers had far fewer meetings to attend in those days. Klitzke said he can’t remember Mrs. Wiese, his first principal, ever having a meeting.
Instead, the entire staff would get together for coffee every Tuesday afternoon after school. Two people were assigned to bring homemade treats each week, and all teachers were expected to be there.
“During this time, we discussed concerns openly amongst ourselves. If there was a problem, it didn’t last long,” Klitzke commented.
Another change is that teachers were allowed to smoke in school at one time.
Klitzke mentioned one staff member who used to smoke his pipe in the janitor’s room, and said teachers were allowed to smoke during their Tuesday afternoon coffee meetings.
“It’s hard to believe,” he commented.
Klitzke said in the past, kids seemed more eager to go to the library to check out books.
“Helen Piehl, the first librarian I worked with, and Helen Dossett, her replacement, instilled the love of reading in many students.”
Technology has also changed quite a bit since Klitzke was hired.
“There weren’t any computers, and I still haven’t decided whether that is good or bad,” he commented. “All the kids today have computers to use at home. I stick to the three Rs.”
Videos are also a new development since Klitzke began teaching.
“When I started, we had 35 millimeter movies and slide projectors. I can remember when we got our first overhead projector. I really am starting to feel old now,” he commented.
There was also no copy machine in those days.
“There was a spirit duplicator machine in the high school office, along with a mimeograph machine,” Klitzke recalled. “I’ll never forget the time during my first few days as a teacher when I asked Mrs. Wiese (the principal) where the duplicating machine was. She looked at me and said, ‘What’s the blackboard for?’”
Students were more respectful when Klitzke started his career, and some of the teachers were stricter.
“DeVota Stoltenow would not even tolerate a student saying ‘yeah.’ It had to be ‘yes,’” Klitzke said.
“That behavior was corrected by her in the fifth grade (before they made it to Klitzke’s class). Awesome.” he commented.
Sports have changed, as well.
“Kids were always playing pickup baseball and softball games. You rarely see that today,” Klitzke commented.
In addition to teaching, Klitzke did some coaching and has been involved in the geography bee, the spelling bee, and the science fair.
He also helped to organize summer league baseball in Lester Prairie.
He was a Cub Scout Master for eight years, and served on the Lester Prairie Park Board for 25 years.
In 2003, Klitzke was one of 10 people selected to serve on Governor Tim Pawlenty’s math standards committee, and helped to write the math standards that the whole state uses.
He said he tried to use his common sense approach to school, and apply that to the standards.
Klitzke has three sons, Mathew, Nathan, and Christopher, and two granddaughters, Sophie and Kaya. His wife, Kathy is also retiring this year. She has been a para at Lester Prairie for more than 20 years.
Klitzke said he has been thinking about writing a children’s book “with his own twist” after retirement.
He also hopes to do some substitute teaching.
“The years fly by,” Klitzke commented. “The years have all been good, and I’ve been lucky to have such a good job.”