By Jason DeMoe
A 38-year teaching career that has spanned a good portion of the United States will come to a close at the end of this current academic year as Julie Retka retires from her position as a special education teacher at Murray Middle School in St. Anthony Park.
“I put a very large amount of effort into everything I do, and teaching has been a main focus on my life for a long time,” Retka said. “It is just time for me to focus that effort on some other things.”
Retka earned a degree in elementary education at the University of Minnesota and a master’s in special education from Lesley College in Massachusetts. She began her teaching career in 1980 with the Peace Corps. She has since taught at a private school in New Hampshire and spent four years teaching in Boston. She moved back to Minnesota during the 1989-90 school year and taught in several St. Paul Public Schools as well as in the Roseville school district. She began teaching at Murray in 2000.
“I love St. Paul,” Retka said. “There is such a diverse community here and even when I was teaching out east, I knew I eventually wanted to come back here. The St. Paul Public School system has been an amazing place to work and Murray, in particular, has been very good to me.”
Retka chose special education because the students help her look at things in a different way, she said.
“The personalities have always been very interesting to me,” she said. “I enjoy watching their growth throughout the year. Seeing how much change occurs in them is always a joy to watch. I enjoy the enthusiasm and energy my students bring as they make their way through this exciting and transforming part of their lives.”
Retka’s plans for retirement include a kitchen remodel, lots of trips to see her first grandchild, gardening, reading, cooking and time on her bicycle. An avid biker, in 2011 she and her husband completed a two-year bicycle trip around the world.
“My husband has been retired 10 years, and I know that he wants me to be retired as well,” she said. “We want to travel and explore new opportunities and enjoy being firsttime grandparents.”
Although Retka is excited to move on, she does have some trepidation.
“I sometimes wonder if I will be able to find something as fulfilling and purposeful as what I have been doing for so long,” she said. “I am really going to miss seeing the teachers and the kids.”
Saying goodbye will be bittersweet, she said. So much so, that she has definite plans for the beginning of the next school year.
“I will be gone somewhere in September when school starts,” she said. “If I am home when the year begins, I know my mind will only be focused on what is happening at the school. As hard as it will be, I need to find ways to focus on other things.” One thing is for sure, and that is Retka has no plans to slow down anytime soon.
“One of the things I learned with certainty is that when you put one foot in front of the other or roll along bit by bit on a bicycle, you can accomplish amazing things,” she said.