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A bittersweet farewell

Though the excitement in the air on the last day of school is almost palpable, as both teachers and students anticipate the long summer break ahead, that excitement was tinged with sadness for Rachel Pederson.

A teacher at Detroit Lakes Public Schools since 1971 -- with all 35 of those years spent teaching at Rossman Elementary -- Pederson said goodbye to her 35th and final class of first graders on Thursday.

"I've been really sad this week, because I love my job," she said Wednesday afternoon. "I love the kids, I love my coworkers, I love teaching."

So why retire?

"I wanted to go out while I was still feeling good," Pederson said, adding that she plans to enjoy her retirement.

"I'm not sure what I'll do now," she continued. "My original plan was to teach overseas, but as (retirement) approached, I realized I needed a break from teaching after 35 years."

Though she doesn't rule out pursuing a teaching engagement overseas at some point, or even substitute teaching in DL (she has no plans to move at this time), Pederson said she wants to see what else is out there for her as well.

Still, her departure is not without regrets.

"I'm going to miss the kids, and all the people at Rossman," she said, adding that she planned to leave Detroit Lakes for the weekend as soon as school let out on Thursday, to take her mind off the fact that she wouldn't be going back in the fall.

She said she would particularly miss the relationship she had built with her fellow first grade instructors, Ruth King, Jan Hoganson and Becky Itzen, and long-time aide Kitty Hassenstab, who has been assisting her in the classroom for 15 years.

A mother of three, Pederson said she hopes to pass on

much of the teaching materials she has accumulated through the years to her daughter, Anna, a Concordia College graduate (Pederson also graduated from there) who is currently seeking a full-time elementary teaching position in the Twin Cities.

Pederson has amassed quite a collection of instructional aids through the years, from books and posters to stuffed animals and wall displays.

One of the secrets to her teaching success was always trying to keep the curriculum fresh, with innovative study units that often revolved around areas of special

interest to Pederson: Birds

and birding, African culture, dogs.

"I love dogs," Pederson said, adding later that she would bring her 13-year-old "Yorkie-poo," Abby, to class with her about once a month to visit with her students.

"When she curls up on the kids' laps, they just melt," she said.

Pederson also enjoyed incorporating poetry and song into her reading program. At the start of each year, she would give each of her students a notebook in which they could collect the "daily poems" she would give them to read.

"We'd read a new poem or sing a new song each day, using it as a word study lesson," she said.

At the end of the year, she would give the notebooks to them to bring home as a keepsake. Pederson also kept a "class book" for each student, with a collection of the essays and artwork they had composed during each year. She would hold onto the books until the students graduated from high school, then give them to each student as a graduation present.

The affection Pederson feels for her students has often been reciprocated. Just this month, one of her first graders gave her a plaque with a Dr. Seuss quotation, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

"That's good advice," she said.

And more than 80 friends, colleagues and relatives attended a retirement party hosted by her family earlier this month.

"That was really special," Pederson said with a smile.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454