DASSEL, MN Gail Ganser has been professionally teaching school for four decades. Really, though, she’s been a teacher her whole life.
The Dassel Elementary School third-grade teacher, who chose to retire at the close of this school year, distinctly remembers “playing school” as a child. “I played all the time with the neighborhood kids,” she recalled.
While attending college, she drove a school bus, and taught her passengers to sing silly songs with her. “I just knew I loved kids,” she said.
Her classroom career began at Cokato Elementary in 1977, teaching second-graders.
Ganser said she has always admired students’ enthusiasm, energy, and excitement. She has enjoyed getting to know each of her students as individuals, and discovering what makes them tick. “What motivates them?” she asked. “How can I make their learning meaningful and fun?”
Ganser’s world was rocked June 16, 1992, when a tornado destroyed her classroom’s entire wing.
District administration moved quickly, and Ganser and a fellow teacher taught a class of 34 students in Dassel Elementary’s music room the next school year.
Ganser said she was “thrilled and excited” to be asked to stay and “loop” with her second-graders so she could teach them again in third grade.
Ganser has been teaching at Dassel ever since.
She estimated she has educated 850 students over the course of her career.
A bulletin board close to her desk is layered and papered with small individual photos of former students she has taught through the years.
Ganser said she loves receiving cards from former students who are graduating high school, or celebrating life milestones. “They haven’t forgotten me,” she said with incredulity. “That means a lot.”
She said her second-generation students bring her joy, as well. When a former student comes to conferences with their own child, Ganser enjoys all the associated memories. “Some kids are as quirky as their dad was,” she laughed.
Ganser said all the classroom technology changes have not phased her much. Most of it has been gradual and worthwhile.
Teaching techniques have changed through the years, as well. But one thing has stayed constant. “Kids are kids,” she said. “It’s about so much more than teaching academics. There’s so much more than being a teacher or a counselor. You need to meet students where they are so they can be effective learners.”
Ganser mentioned in passing that she was the recipient of an award which honors leadership in education. The award is voted on by peers.
Ganser was deeply flattered by the award, but appeared to prefer to talk about teaching math and reading, claiming both subjects are her favorites.
When teaching mathematics, she loved to see the excitement in a student’s eyes when they grasped the concept, and then correctly completed the problem.
And then there’s reading. Ganser has made a point to read aloud to her students every day. She loved it, and so did they.
When queried, students in Ganser’s class this year are quick to point out favorite books, and to talk about the characters, plots, and lessons between all of those covers.
When asked to pick a spot to take a photo, both teacher and students gravitated to the reading corner of the classroom.
So, why is this year Ganser’s last? “I still love it,” she said. “Excitement and learning are still so much fun.”
Also, fun, however, is the fact her husband is retiring this year, as well. The pair has four children, and 13 grandchildren they would like to see more often.
Ganser said she’d like to travel, take a cruise, volunteer at church, take walks around the lake, and maybe even try some fishing.
“I want some time to figure things out,” she said. “I want to figure out where the needs are.”
Ganser said the last day of school has always been a tough one, but this year will be a pretty epic doozy.
“There are tears every year,” she admitted. “But this is a great class to finish with.”
Ganser feels good about her career with the district. She indicated she has fully enjoyed each of her students, colleagues, and administrators through the years.
“God has blessed this district with great, strong leaders,” she concluded. “I feel very privileged to have come through this place.”