A new school year is beginning, but one familiar face won’t be among the teachers welcoming students back.
Helen Herzog, the longest-serving employee in the , retired on Aug. 25 after 47 years of service.
“Retirement will be an adjustment,” said Herzog, from an Excelsior Elementary classroom. “My car just automatically goes into this parking lot.”
Herzog has worked with preschoolers through fifth graders during her career. This summer she served as assistant supervisor for elementary students in the Explorers Club at Excelsior.
Herzog's teaching career began Aug. 23, 1964, teaching first grade at Excelsior. Back then she was Helen Johnson, a new graduate from Concordia College in Moorhead.
Since then, she’s worked in all six of the district’s elementary schools. She has even taught multiple generations of some families.
Herzog didn’t intend to stay in teaching this long. “I thought I’d quit once I got married and started a family,” she said. But when her first child was born, Herzog continued on in a substitute position and later resumed full-time.
Why did she stay? “I love children,” Herzog said. “I have a zest for learning and making learning fun. And I get hugs.”
“Helen is truly passionate about working with children,” said Carol Solheid, Explorers Club program manager. “She sees them as individuals and works to build on their strengths and ideas.”
One of the students who will miss Herzog is Excelsior fifth grader Sophia Scott.
“Helen has been great, and we’re sorry to lose her,” said Sophia’s dad, Channing Scott. “She’s firm, but the kids like her.”
Herzog has observed many changes in education over the years. The biggest change?
“Students’ attitude,” she said. “Years ago, kids showed more respect for authority, so it’s a little more challenging for teachers now.”
She added that kids today are more knowledgeable due to the influx of technology.
One thing that hasn’t changed, Herzog said, is that kids are eager to learn.
Her teaching philosophy? “Kids learn better if they play and have fun, and don’t even realize they’re learning,” she said. “I encourage creativity and reading.”
Herzog said that every morning before work, she prayed that she’d be a good example for the children.
Herzog plans to spend retirement caring for her infant granddaughter.
“We’ll do the things I did with my students and my own daughters,” said the grandmother of five. “Take nature walks, read stories.”
Herzog and her husband will also travel abroad to visit their other grandchildren.
Herzog is trying to come up with a “bucket list” of things she’d like to accomplish while she’s retired. She loves to read and may join a book club. She would like to write a children’s book based on stories she created for kids over the years.
She might focus on a home business addressing wedding invitations by hand. “I’ve always been told I have good handwriting,” she said.
What will Herzog miss most?
“The kids,” she said. “And the camaraderie with the staff. They’re fantastic.”
Herzog has advice for young students. “Learn as much as you can. My dad used to say, ‘Observe and absorb.’”
She also believes in the importance of relationships. “Maintain those friendships,” she said.
Herzog’s advice to new teachers is simple.
“Be a friend as well as an authority. Kids know if you care or not.”