Retiring teachers share memories, plans

Editor’s note: Six teachers are retiring from New Prague Area Schools with the conclusion of the 2012- 13 school year. The Times talked with each of them to share their memories of the time they spent here and their plans for the future

Terry Bissell Eagle View fourth grade teacher Terry Bissel, originally from Deer River, cites her grandmother and her parents as an influence for her career. "Now my daughter is finishing her first year of teaching, so it's always seemed like the ‘natural’ choice to become an educator," said Bissell. She graduated from Minnesota State-Mankato in 1974. She started that same year as a Title 1 teacher in grades one – three at New Prague Elementary School and St. Wenceslaus. She spent 25 years as a sixth grade teacher, three years as a fifth grade teacher, and the rest as a fourth grade teacher all in the New Prague Area School District. She has many favorite memories, starting with working in a portable classroom. Her memories "continue over four decades, five separate buildings, nine principals, six superintendents, many dedicated coworkers and staff, and well over 1,000 students." She will miss students’ faces light up as they would "get it in class." Bissell looks forward to having a little more freedom to choose her activities and spend more time with friends and family. She might even be back to substitute teach. "It's been an honor to have spent my entire teaching career in a school district that shows it cares about its students, its staff, and its excellent reputation as an educator of young minds," said Bissell.

Pete Kallal is one of two teachers retiring this year who was born and raised in the area. A New Prague native, his influence for deciding to become a teacher were his own teachers. "I had so many great teachers growing up in New Prague," said Kallal. "I earned my bachelor's degree from the Minnesota State-Mankato, and my master's from St. Mary's University in Winona." Kallal has taught fourth and fifth graders over 35 years, all of that as a teacher in the New Prague Area School District. He has been a fifth grade teacher at Eagle View Elementary School since it opened in 2006. His favorite memory comes from teaching students to read. "As a teacher of reading it would be great to see a student become excited about reading good literature," said Kallal. For his retirement, Kallal described his plans, "I will travel, play my trombone, and work part time."

Rita Sapp has been the choir teacher at New Prague High School since 1987. She is originally from Le Center and g r a d u a t e d from Mankato State University with a bachelor of science in music education with a minor in voice and piano. She started her career in 1980, teaching kindergarten through fourth grade at Orono, ninth through 12th grade at Rockford and kindergarten through 12th grade at Le Center. "I always knew I wanted to teach and I started music when I was very young," said Sapp about her choice for a career. "New Prague is supportive of the arts," said Sapp. "The parents and the students are fantastic." She has been able to try different things. Such as with the Pops Concert, it began with students singing pop songs and has evolved to where the students decide on the choreography. Sapp took two years off to perform with the Silver Blue Band, a top 40 variety band. She explained the group performed music from the Andrew Sisters to Pat Benatar. They opened for such acts as Charlie Pride, Roy Clark and Crystal Gayle. Like many teachers, Sapp’s job required long days. There were some days when she was at the school by 6 a.m. and didn’t leave until 8 p.m. "It would be nine months where I would live and breathe my job, which I love," said Sapp. She noted as part of her retirement she will be spending more time with her mom, Betty Sapp. She will also be back to help with the high school fall musical. "I’m going to see where life takes me. I’m going to look at other opportunities," Sapp said. "I’m also going to take more time to find out who Rita is."

Mark Shaughnessy is the second teacher who is from the area. Born and raised in Montgomery, he admits he started teaching late when he was 33. Before that he operated a jewelry business in Montgomery. "The teachers I knew seemed to enjoy being part of a school community and got a lot of satisfaction from teaching. I wanted to experience that as well," said Shaughnessy about why he became a teacher. He received his bachelor of science degree from Minnesota State-Mankato and his master’s degree from St. Mary's University in Winona. Shaughnessy’s favorite memory has to do with when he was starting as a teacher. "When I began, so many people went out of their way to welcome me, include me in activities, and provide any help that I needed in the classroom," he said. Shaughnessy has been a teacher for 23 years, all of that in the New Prague Area School District. For nine years he taught sixth grade and the remainder has been as a fifth grade teacher. Those last seven years have been at Eagle View Elementary School. He said for his retirement, "I plan to golf, fish, travel, and do some substitute teaching."

Dan Puls taught 32 years in New Prague Area Schools. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Morris, He taught in New Prague as a l o n g - t e r m substitute in the 1978-79 school year, went to St. Peter for a year then returned in 1980-81. Except for a two-year sabbatical while he pursued a graduate degree, he has been here ever since. The Redwood Falls native taught American history, world geography, current social issues and advanced placement history. When asked what memories stood out, he said he remembers going through the interview process with Paul Flick, George Kartak and Bob Stepaniak. “These guys hired people with the idea that they wanted different outlooks and viewpoints of public education. That’s what stood out for me. They made a body of teachers that weren’t ‘Yes Men.’” “I’ve been fortunate to see former students over the years, and connecting with them over the years. He says he’s going to miss the collegiality he had within the social studies department. “When I came in, I was the youngest in the department by 12 years. Now, I’m the old man, but what’s really fun is that I’m working with former students like Greg Tikalsky and Allison (Nytes) Olson, and with Jen Sayler, who was a student teacher for me. I’ve literally watched them grow up from being students to colleagues. He says he’s looking forward to retirement. “I’ve been a history teacher, and I want to see the country by train or by car, and not fly over it.” he says one trip he looks forward to is to take a train to the west coast and then up the coat to Alaska with long-time companion Margaret Kartak.

Addie Thietje New Prague Middle School choir teacher Addie Thietje is originally from Marion, SD. She graduated from Augustana College in Sioux Falls with a degree in vocal music. Her family, including parents Eldon and Jean Smith, were an influence in becoming a teacher. "My mom was a teacher, my dad wanted to be a teacher," said Thietje. Her dad ran the family business, a bank. Her own family is also involved in teaching. Son Ben directs New Prague High School’s fall musical, one act and spring play. Daughter Kacey taught before becoming a full-time mom. Son Toby teaches at St. Wenceslaus and his wife, Nicole, teaches at Raven Stream Elementary School. Thietje began teaching in 1974. "We came to New Prague in 1984," she said. She was a substitute teacher for two years, then kindergarten full-time. She began teaching general music, then principal Joan Anderson hired her to teach seventh grade choir in 1997. For the last 12 years she led the middle school’s spring musical. For a favorite memory, Thietje said, "Everybody asks and I have so many that I can’t pick one. I have too many to even begin to list them. I guess that happens when you have the best job in the world." This summer she will be helping Ben get his new professional theater DalekoArts up and running in New Prague. She will also be taking a Mediterranean cruise, one that has been planned for since last summer. "This community has been such a wonderful place for me to have my career," said Thietje.