By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN After more than 200 combined years of instruction at Delano Public Schools, seven teachers and staff members have decided that this year, it’s time to say farewell.
Fifth grade teacher Sharon Keller spent 39 years teaching in Delano, and special education teacher Gail Savage and social studies teacher John Zerull follow closely behind, each with 38 years of service.
Joining them are Jan Christopherson, Brad Hagen, Leo Pospichal, and Barb Stevens, who are featured in a separate article.
“Every year is different; every group of kids is different,” said Keller, who has nearly four decades of teaching experience. “I’m always changing things a little bit, depending on the needs of the students.”
Before coming to Delano, Keller taught for about a year in St. Cloud and a year in Missouri.
“I started in third grade and ever since then, I’ve had fifth grade,” Keller said. She’s enjoyed fifth graders because of their creativity and sense of humor.
“You can joke around with them, and they still enjoy the learning process,” she said. “They’re developing a sense of who they are.”
When Keller was growing up, she attended school in the Robbinsdale School District in Minneapolis.
“The teacher who inspired me the most was my music teacher in junior high,” she said. “He demanded a lot from us and instilled a sense of pride in us.”
Keller knew she wanted to be a teacher because of her love for children. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota, and received a master’s degree from St. Cloud State University.
During her early years of teaching, Keller taught all subjects, including art, music, and phy-ed.
“Now, specialized teachers do that,” she said.
Keller’s favorite subject to teach has always been math. When asked if they liked math, too, Keller’s class responded with a resounding “Yes!”
“I think it helps that I like it,” Keller said, explaining that when the teacher likes a subject, it often “rubs off” on the students.
Keller said she’s enjoyed her years of teaching, but is now ready to spend more time with her husband, Gary, and adult children, Christopher and Melissa.
Christopher has four daughters, and Melissa will be having her first child in August.
Thirty-eight years ago, John Zerull was a brand new teacher at Delano High School.
“I started and finished here,” Zerull said.
Growing up, he moved around quite a bit, however, living in Iowa, New York, Kentucky, and Texas, as well as Minnesota.
In high school, one of Zerull’s teachers suggested that he pursue a career in education.
“I kind of had that in the back of my mind,” Zerull said. “That’s how I headed in that direction.”
He always enjoyed both economics and social studies, and decided to combine his interests by becoming a high school teacher.
“Civics is my favorite,” Zerull said. “I try to run the class in a way that is enjoyable for the students.”
The ninth graders get involved in real life local government by attending city council and school board meetings.
During class, Zerull brings the subject material to life by setting up a “congress” among the students. They have the opportunity to participate on committees and write bills that impact the class.
“It’s kind of fun,” Zerull said. “I really want kids to enjoy the learning process. I know if I like what I’m doing, then they have a chance to like it, too.”
Examples of bills that have passed include having a review day before every test, and allowing food in the classroom on special occasions.
Zerull, who is the “president,” said he seldom has to veto a bill.
“They’re pretty responsible,” he said.
Gail Savage’s teaching career began at Delano Public Schools in 1972, after she graduated from Moorhead State University. Savage also has a master’s degree in developmental and remedial reading from the University of St. Thomas.
“That’s been really beneficial to what I do,” she said.
This year, Savage taught one special education math course, but her focus has been primarily reading and language arts.
She enjoys working in small groups, implementing learning strategies to help students compose paragraphs and sentences.
When Savage came to Delano, special education was a brand new field.
“I started out at the very beginning,” she said.
Savage grew up in western North Dakota, and currently lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Gerald. Two of their children have graduated from college, and their youngest is graduating high school this year.
During retirement, Savage said she’s keeping her options open.
“There are a lot of volunteer opportunities,” she said.