By Starrla Cray
DELANO, WAVERLY, MN “I always said, if I taught anyone’s grandparents, I’d have to retire for sure,” laughed first grade teacher Kathy Workman, who is finishing her 41st year at Delano Elementary School.
As far as she knows, that hasn’t happened yet, and she doesn’t plan to stick around for it.
“I had been thinking about retirement for awhile, and this year, all of the pieces kind of fell into place,” Workman said.
Leaving her long career was a tough decision one she didn’t make until March.
“Since I was 5 or 6 years old, I’ve gone to school every year,” Workman said. “My whole life has been at school.”
For just about as long, teaching has been her goal and passion.
“I never really considered anything else,” she said. “I just knew that was it.”
Growing up on a dairy farm north of Waverly, Workman went to a two-room school until seventh grade. She later graduated from Howard Lake High School, and earned a degree in elementary education from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
“The year I graduated from college, there was a glut of teachers and not a lot of jobs,” Workman recalled. “I interviewed all over the state.”
Unable to find a job, Workman assumed she’d have to wait until the following year to pursue her dream.
“Then, an opening came here [in Delano] a week before school started,” Workman said, explaining that the principal called to tell her about it.
“That’s how I started teaching here, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Although she’s always taught first grade, every year has been unique.
“One of the parts that’s changed the most is technology,” Workman said. “These kids are so savvy they really know how to use it.”
From hand-cranked mimeograph machines to iPads, the tools of the trade have evolved through the years.
“Everything is quick and flashing you just have to adapt your method and instruction to that,” Workman said. “Overall, students have a harder time sitting still, and they have shorter attention spans.”
With increased state and federal mandates, expectations for student achievement have also advanced.
“We still teach the basics, but a lot of kids come reading now,” Workman said.
Students’ home life is also more varied. Parents sometimes have careers that require out-of-state travel, while other families have one parent able to stay at home.
“When I started, there were a lot of rural families, and very few mothers worked outside the home,” Workman said.
Despite busy schedules, many parents are involved with their child’s learning, and take time to help in the classroom.
“We have wonderful volunteers I can’t tell you how nice it is,” Workman said.
She considers first grade a “transition year,” for students.
“From the beginning of the year to the end of the year, they make really obvious progress,” she said. “Teaching first grade is rewarding. They’re very enthusiastic, sweet, and loving.”