Kreg Kinzle, Mike Pomerenke and Mike Schmidt have devoted nearly their entire professional careers to the education of children in the Glenwood Community School District. Between the three of them, they share more than a century of teaching experience in the district – 104 years to be exact.
On Tuesday, the three retiring teachers spent their final day in a classroom setting.
Understandably, it was a bittersweet day.
“I’m going to really miss the kids and my colleagues,” Pomerenke said. “When you’ve done something like this for 37 years, it just becomes a part of your life.”
Teaching children has been a major part of the lives of all three of the veteran educators.
Pomerenke grew up in Sibley, in northwest Iowa, and taught three years at a Catholic School in Ames before being hired 34 years ago to teach math in Glenwood by the late Keith McGinnis, former Northeast Elementary Principal. Pomerenke spent several years moving between buildings
within the district, teaching math and some physical education courses. He’s focused primarily on sixth-grade math in recent years.
“I love teaching math and I love working with this age of kids,” Pomerenke said. “The math I work with is your basic, ordinary, common, everyday mathematics. That kind of stuff doesn’t change. Ways of presenting it has changed over the years. We’ve learned some different strategies. The thing now is to try to get the kids more engaged and more active in their learning, but that’s something I’ve always tried to do that with kids.”
Pomerenke said mathematics may not be a topic that excites everyone, but he takes pride in knowing his students will take the knowledge they’ve gained in his classroom and carry it with them through their adult lives.
“The level of math that I teach, the majority of kids have to use it throughout their lives,” he said. “Basically, you add, subtract, multiply and divide. Whole numbers, decimals and percentages.”
Pomerenke considers himself “old school,”noting students regard him as a “demanding” teacher.
“I still give homework and I expect kids to come to school with their homework finished,” he pointed out.
Pomerenke’s plans for retirement include continuing his summer work as a house painter and working with his wife’s horses on their Glenwood acreage. He might do some traveling and fill in as a substitute teacher now and then.
“I plan to do some substituting,” he said. “With this age of kids, there’s never a dull moment.”
Kinzle, a reading / language arts teacher at Glenwood Middle School, has the most seniority of the three. The Denison native has taught in Glenwood for 36 years.
“This is the only place I’ve ever taught, other than doing my student teaching in South Dakota,” Kinzle said. “This was the second job I applied for after I got my teaching endorsement. Gene Nasalroad was superintendent then and he used to be my junior high principal (Denison).”
Kinzle has taught junior high / middle school students during his entire stint in Glenwood. It’s that young adolescent he truly enjoys working with.
“I’ve always related to middle school kids. They still have the energy and curiosity of children, but they’re at a more intellectual level where you can deal with some deeper ideas with literature and reading. I really like that,” Kinzle said.
“I think it takes a certain kind of person with middle school kids. You have to be very tolerant, but there’s a great joy with their energy and enthusiasm and their budding intellect.”
Kinzle said the teaching philosophy he adheres to is one of nurturing.
“That’s something Mr. (Russ) Finken always stressed with us when he was principal,” Kinzle said. “Middle school kids are different than high school kids. You need to be more nurturing, you need to give them those second, third and fourth chances and I think we’ve always done that. I guess maybe I’m too easy going, but I’ve always tried to teach with enthusiasm and enjoyment rather than being punitive and punishing kids.”
Kinzle’s found great satisfaction in teaching, particularly when he sees present and former students express their interest and excitement about reading.
“I had a school board member come up to me at the last parent-teacher conferences and he said, ‘You know, I never truly enjoyed reading until I had your class.’ That made me feel really good. I had a high school girl tell me the same thing the same night.”
Kinzle said the decision to retire was a tough one to make, but he’s found it more difficult in recent years to embrace some of the changes taking place in education. “We’re really changing the way we teach.
Everything now is ‘best practices.’ I really see the value of these classes, because there are some very good strategies, but sometimes they don’t pay enough attention to the experience of the teachers. Look at people who have the experience and have rapport with students. They don’t value that as much anymore as they do the new strategies and best practices.”
In his retirement, Kinzle said he’ll consider doing some substitute teaching, but also plans to focus more of his attention on his favorite pastimes – hunting, fishing, photography and reading.
“I love to bird hunt and I love to fish. I’ll do a lot of that,” he said.
“Something I’ve really had a thought to do is to write some books for middle school kids about hunting and fishing. I always have kids come up to me and ask me, what’s a good book to read about hunting or fishing. There isn’t anything to fill that niche.”
Like Kinzle, Glenwood is the only school district Schmidt has ever taught in. Schmidt’s been here 34 years. He was hired by Nasalroad and retired high school principal Bob Blasi.
“It was supposed to be a one-year position,” Schmidt recalled. “Marianne Driml had just had her oldest son in July and I was taking her position. I knew it was a one-year position, but I just wanted to get the experience.”
The one-year gig evolved into a full-time position as a middle school reading teacher. Schmidt taught middle school for five years before returning permanently to the high school for an English position.
“I don’t think anybody really expects to spend their entire career in one district,” Schmidt said. “I looked around at an earlier time. I was actually offered a job in LeMars, but after giving it some thought, it really wasn’t the best choice at that time. There was never any other consideration. We’ve always been treated very well here. The school district’s been very good to us. We’ve had no reason to even consider going any place else.”
In addition to his teaching duties, Schmidt’s been involved heavily in the school’s fine arts program, particularly in the areas of speech and drama. Glenwood’s speech program is one of the most-highly acclaimed in the state.
Schmidt said he’s never considered teaching to be a “passion,” just something he enjoys doing and something he happens to be pretty darn good at.
“It seems to come naturally to me,” Schmidt said. “School has been an important part of my life. I’m 59 years old and 52 years of my life has been spent in a school as a student and a teacher.”
For Schmidt, the greatest satisfaction as a teacher comes when he realizes he’s no longer needed by his students.
“If there’s something I really enjoy about teaching, I would say that it’s seeing kids get to the point where I’m no longer needed,” he said. “To me, that’s always been the ultimate goal of being a teacher. Teach them so that they don't need you anymore.
“I've often made a deal with my students. I’ve told them, ‘When you graduate, I’ll give you one year of free proofreading. Just send me your papers and I’ll proofread them for you and give you some advice and suggestions.’ Nobody ever does it. Why, because they don't need me any more. To me, that’s the ultimate compliment.”
Schmidt said he’s particularly enjoyed the final two years of his career in Glenwood, in part because he was part of the move into a new high school building, but primarily because of his co-workers.
“The most difficult thing for me to walk away from is going to be this incredible staff and the building administration. This is probably the best staff I’ve worked with in 34 years,” Schmidt said. “I could have said the same thing last year, too. I think (Principal) Kerry Newman provides great leadership and she makes better teachers. I think I’ve become a better teacher under her leadership.
“People ask, ‘Aren't you going to miss the kids?’ Well, I miss the kids every time there’s a graduating class. I’ve been missing kids for 34 years.”
Schmidt said he and his wife, Debbie, who currently works as the child librarian at the Glenwood Public Library, plan to move to Fairfield later this year after selling their home in Glenwood.
“Our plans are to move to Fairfield where Debbie’s parents are. Her parents’ health is not as good as it used to be,” Schmidt said. “That’s where family is and we have no family here. We’ve been separated from family for 34 years and we just feel like it’s time to get back.”
Schmidt promises to keep busy after he retires.
“I’ve always said I was going to retire from teaching, but I wasn't going to quit working, so I’ll probably substitute teach,” he said. “I can see myself doing that and enjoying it. Maybe I’ll bag groceries at a Hy-Vee store. We’ll ride our bikes and visit our granddaughter and boys’ families in the Minneapolis area.”