Retiring Teachers Riding Away In Style

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Northeast Elementary School Early Childhood Educators Have 119 Years Combined Teaching Experience

By Joe Foreman, Editor


42 + 40 + 37 = 119.

Three early childhood educators with a combined 119 years of teaching experience are retiring from the Glenwood Community School District Friday.

Margo Young (42 years), Diane VonTersch (40) and Rhonda Lothrop (37) have educated and impacted multiple generations of children as teachers at Northeast Elementary School. On Friday, they’ll say goodbye to their students and a passion that’s defined their professional lives.

“The reason I stayed in it is because it’s amazing to share little people’s lives with them,” Young, a first-grade special education teacher, said. “To see them learn, to see them investigate, see them discover – it’s such a fun, exciting time every day.”

Young,  a native of the Black Hills region of South Dakota, came to Glenwood in 1977 because she wanted to teach in the state of Iowa, known at the time for being the No. 1 state in the nation in classroom innovation and educational excellence.

“I came to this area knowing no one. I was going to stay two years,” she said. “Now, it’s been two years and four decades. It went that fast.”

VonTersch began her teaching career at St. Patrick’s School in Missouri Valley and St. Albert Catholic in Council Bluffs.

The past 30 years have been spent in Glenwood, teaching special education and second grade.

“I just love working with the little kids,” VonTersch said. “I would have never stayed in this profession if it wasn’t for the kids. I will miss them.”

Lothrop, a native of Lincoln, Neb., began her career in Glenwood teaching preschool at the district’s “little green house” on the east end of town where the high school tennis courts are now located. She spent seven years at the preschool before moving to Northeast to begin a 30-year run as a kindergarten teacher, a position that’s been a perfect fit.

“What they say at that age is so innocent and when they come in (at the beginning of the year) they’re so overwhelmed by the experience at first,” Lothrop said. “Now you see them, they’re comfortable with the routine and know what to do. That’s not even the academics they have. Now, you can turn them loose and they’ll write and they can read. They’re a lot more independent than they were eight months ago.”

The trio of teachers have seen and experienced many changes as educators over the past four decades, including a reduction in students who come from “traditional” two-parent homes. VonTersch estimates that less than half of her students have both of their biological parents living with them at home.

Lothrop said social skills have become a larger part of the kindergarten curriculum.

“We really focus on social skills, having them ready to go out into the world,” she said. “That starts at  kindergarten. Our job is kind of a mom job, counselor, teacher – you wear a lot of hats.”

Young said she’s had to make adjustments in her teaching practices over the years as student and family dynamics have evolved.

“I would say families have a lot more balls to juggle, between their careers, children’s activities and trying to support their children at home,” Young said. “It’s more difficult for them to be involved in their children’s education and consequently we see that difference in our classrooms.”

The three teachers agree that benchmarks and acheivement standards have risen over the past 40 years for their young students. Lothrop said  “kindergarten is now the new first grade because of the expectations.”

During their careers, Young, VonTersch and Lothrop have all experienced changes in curriculum, administrative leadership, educational philosophies and the huge impact of technology, but one constant has been the satisfaction of watching their young students grow and mature. They’ve all been approached over the years by former students who have thanked them for guidance, support and the impact they had on shaping so many individual lives at an early age.

“I am so amazed and proud to see my littles grow up and be a part of this community – leaders in this community or go on to different places and come back and tell me ‘this is what I’m doing with my life,’” Young said. “You think, ‘I had a tiny part of that child’ whatever career or path they chose. It just warms your heart to know they have memories with you and it’s something they’ll always share.”

VonTersch has kept a notebook with letters of thanks she’s received from some of her former students.

“It’s gratifying knowing you’re part of their journey,” she said. “For that one year, you were a big part of their life.”
Retirement wasn’t something they’ve thought a lot about during their teaching careers, but Young, VonTersch and Lothrop all say the time is now right.

“I don’t think we all ever thought about retirement 40 years ago,” Lothrop said. “That was so far beyond from what I could even imagine and then one morning you wake up and say, ‘I’ve been here a long time.’ While we still like teaching, it’s hard. It’s a hard job. To be effective, there’s a lot of time invested outside the school.”

Young, VonTersch and Lothrop all say they’re looking foward to the next chapter in their lives, which will involve spending more time with their families.

“It’s time to write a new lesson plan now,” Lothrop said, “spending more time with my family and my parents.”