The Centurions of SAP Elementary
When Colleen Osterbauer met with her third-grade teaching colleagues at St. Anthony Park Elementary School a couple of years ago to plan the upcoming year, the three veteran teachers realized that their combined years in education amounted to more than a century.
“I joked about how this could seem like some doddering old women were responsible for the education of the students,” she said. Instead of worrying about their image to young parents, they decided to embrace their long careers, she said, and dubbed themselves the “Centurions of St. Anthony Park.”
Those teachers—Osterbauer, Kathleen Maguire and Judy Roe—along with fourth-grade teacher Linnae Blevins are retiring in June. They’ve taught at the neighborhood school (known to most everyone as “SAP”) for more than two decades. Blevins began her career there nearly 40 years ago.
They’ve seen changes in technology and district mandates in those years, but one thing that hasn’t changed are the students.
“They are still curious, energetic and engaged,” said Roe. “I don’t think I have had a day that has not had at least one good laugh along with one problem to solve.”
The Bugle asked the teachers to share their thoughts about their careers and plans ahead.
Tell us about your career. What made you pursue a career in teaching?
Linnae Blevins: I began my teaching career on Feb. 6, 1978. I was hired as Tom Foster’s replacement in fourth grade. Teaching seemed a natural choice for me because of my love for theater, performance and, of course, being a people person.
Over the years at SAP, I taught grades 4, 5 and 6. I also spent two years as a Title 1 coordinator where I worked with small groups of children in all grades. I’ve enjoyed all my experiences at SAP, but my favorite place is being a classroom teacher.
Kathleen Maguire: I never imagined that when I graduated from St. Catherine’s University in 1973 that I would have such a fulfilling, enjoyable, enriching career for 42 years.
I think our third-grade theme this year, “Ask, Imagine and Create,” explains the reason I wanted to become a teacher. I envisioned learning with and teaching students as an opportunity to facilitate how questions generate ideas and what could be created and learned from using those ideas. Children—no matter what age and what decade —have such an energy and a positive spirit that propels excitement in the classroom.
Being at St. Anthony Park Elementary School for 22 years has been a pleasure and a gift. It is a welcoming, supportive and caring community.
Colleen Osterbauer: My first position was in a nursery school called Stepping Stones in St. Louis Park in 1979. I did a lot of babysitting growing up and always liked playing school. Some elementary teachers were very powerful influences on me, too. Working with children seemed a natural fit for me.
I began at St. Anthony Park in 1986 as a learning-disabilities teacher in a Level 4 program and worked with intermediate-grade students. I have worn a number of hats. My classroom experiences have included teaching grades 1, 3, 4 and 6. For many summer school sessions I taught special needs kindergarten at Como Elementary and special education at Washington Junior High for two years just before coming to SAP.
There are positives about each grade, but my two favorite years are third and fourth grade. There are many firsts in grade 3 for the children, and it is fun as well as rewarding to see the growth, accomplishments and changes in the children.
Judy Roe: I began at SAP in 1986 in the fourth grade. I was there about 14 years. Fourth grade is a place you can really see growth, both academically and socially. I loved fourth grade, but when I had an opportunity to try sixth grade, I was ready for a change.
I remained [teaching sixth grade] for about 10 years. Sixth grade had a whole different set of challenges. I loved the academic content and the projects we could do with kids this age. I loved the trip to Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center and the friendships with parents and families that began while working on this.
When sixth grade moved to middle school, I was offered an opportunity to work in third grade with two of the finest teachers in our district, Colleen Osterbauer and Kathy Maguire. I had worked with Colleen both in fourth grade and sixth grade and our friendship made my job a joy. I found that Kathy was also a super teacher and these folks have made the last two years of my career a dream. So I guess it is not the grade level, but the people you work with that really matters, and I have been blessed to meet and enjoy working with many good people.
Any thoughts about your work at St. Anthony Park or any favorite traditions you’d like to share?
Blevins: The St. Anthony Park community is truly one of a kind. Everyone, including staff, parents, organizations within the school and in the larger community, come together to support student learning.
There are so many wonderful traditions at SAP, like the carnival, the Fall Festival, staff dinners at conference time (so incredible) the Read-A-Thon, Running Club, the talent show and so many more. My absolute favorite is the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center trip. I went for many years with kids to Wolf Ridge for a week. What an amazing experience for building community in your classroom and grade. Kids challenged themselves by completing the ropes course and hiking the beautiful grounds. Fun was had on the night hikes, planning skits and, of course, the big bonfire. Not to mention the many pranks, jokes and silliness.
Maguire: Putting on the musicals with my [former] colleague, Lena [Mayer] Christiansen, for five years was terrific. Parents, caregivers, students and staff rallied together to make it work, and, boy, did it work. I still have the giant heart made from the first musical in our classroom. Winter Wonderland at Langford Park both in fifth and third grade was like a Norman Rockwell scene with children and families skating or helping the first-time skaters or kids playing hockey. Going to Camp St. Croix for three days when I was teaching fifth grade was a highlight.
Osterbauer: Being in a community for a number of years has allowed me to make connections to terrific students and families, and I have had the privilege of working with wonderful teachers, principals and staff. My teammates are among the best anywhere and I have learned a lot and had many laughs along the way. I consider the friendships formed to be among the highlights of my career.
Roe: People here care about education and want to help not just their own child but others. Volunteers are plentiful.
Being in the same community for so long, I feel a part of this neighborhood even though I have never lived here. I have gotten to know entire families. We are now starting to see children of former students in our classes.
My favorite project, both in sixth grade and fourth, was putting on a play as a reading project. We made props, gathered costumes and had a great time. I think we put on 25 productions over the years. There is still one of the backdrops on display on the stage. [Art teacher] Courtney Oleen worked with the kids to make that for “Robin Hood” originally and then it also served for other plays.
What has changed in education since you began teaching? How has technology affected education over the years?
Blevins: The elements that have remained constant in my teaching career are the bright creative students, continual parent support and a competent, dedicated staff. The challenge for teachers in the future are the increased emphasis on testing and the focus on literacy and math, which diminishes time for other important curriculum.
Maguire: When standardized testing came into the scene more and more in the ’90s, I needed a mantra to get me through these changing times in education, as I knew the tests were not going away. It is, “I will teach students how to think, not what to think.”
[There are] too many tests. Data is good to a point, but it is not the end all. Let us discover through activities, words, discussions and students’ self-evaluations how they learn, so we can guide them on their journey. Encourage students to “Ask, Imagine and Create.”
Osterbauer: A lot has changed over the years in terms of district directives. Teachers are given more directions in the pacing of instruction, pretesting, achievement tests and recording student achievement. The district has promoted “Professional Learning Communities” in the last few years, but St. Anthony Park teachers have always worked collaboratively in grade-level teams. This practice of working together existed when I first came to SAP in 1986.
The technology changes have added excitement and have augmented learning. Teachers are learning right along with the students. It will be interesting to see how tech is balanced in the years to come.
Roe: When I first started teaching, the role of the teacher was much more collaborative and creative. We had the most fun team meetings where we solved problems, created interesting curriculum and did a lot of laughing. The teachers really had a say in what and how we taught. Now there is a much more top-down style and following district mandates. There are many more tasks assigned to us by the district that drain our time and energy. The never-ending data mining and testing takes up valuable student time and attention. The style and feel of being a teacher has changed.
If you were granted one wish to fix one thing in public education today, what would that be?
Maguire: Trust the professionalism of educators.
Osterbauer: Return to the feeling of professionalism and confidence in the actions and abilities of teachers by the district.
At times it has felt that teachers are asked to do things that do not always benefit the students and impact teacher time and energy. “One size fits all” seems to be a district attitude and has been frustrating at times for me.
Roe: Noticing that there is a big gap between those who create policy and those who implement it, my wish would be to close this gap. I would send all non-classroom teachers back to the classroom. This would reduce class size without any additional cost to the taxpayer. This would reintroduce non-classroom teachers to the arena where education actually happens, thus allowing them to become relevant.
Blevins: I have lots of plans for the future. My daughter is getting married in the fall of 2016 and I am looking forward to the planning. My husband and I are planning a remodel to our home to be able to sell it in the near future. We’re also hoping to travel out east to enjoy the fall colors in September.
Maguire: I am going to take the “scenic route”: different routines and open time, volunteer on a farm once a week, continue to teach and learn with students in a smaller group setting, tap dancing, be with my 98 1/2-year-old father in Wisconsin and start reading the pile of books on my table. My daughters and I have a gadget to keep track of steps, so I foresee many future daily and weekly challenges. Traveling with my husband to national parks (I have a lifetime admission card now!) will be great.
To the St. Anthony Park School and community I say a heartfelt thanks.
Osterbauer: I hope to do some traveling, volunteering, pursue hobbies I haven’t had time for and cultivate some new interests and continue to grow.
My parting words: “Thanks to SAP for the memories!”
Roe: My main problem has always been, How do I fit it all in?
Leaving SAP is going to be tough for me, so I hope to sub once in a while if I can. Right after school is out, my husband, Andy, and I are going on a hiking trip in Glacier Park, where we also spent our honeymoon 40 years ago.
I enjoy riding bike and have at least three trips planned. My grandchildren give me great joy and I savor any time I can spend with them.
I miss you all very much and wish you the best. Take lots of time to get to know yourself again and you will find retirement to be the most delightful best time of your life, only because you were there to serve so many children and families and make a difference in their lives, and now you can enjoy the peace of mind and contentment from that dedication and turn it back to yourself and your own families!
It is bittersweet to see all of these wonderful and amazing educators retire. I had the pleasure to have Mrs. Maguire as my fifth grade teacher and she is the first teacher I can pinpoint in my life that made a difference and set my life on a different course. I was going through a lot the summer before the start of my fifth year at SAP and Mrs. Maguire helped me through out that year. She made me feel as if I could rely on her and talk to her when ever I needed to . And for that she would always hold a special place in my heart. I can never thank her enough for her guidance and everything that she taught me. And yes, I still have the beanie baby Mrs. Maguire gave me to help me out through the hard times in life. I will cherish it always!