R-P’s Maryellen Dean, “Teacher of the Year”, to retire after 38 years

Maryellen Dean
By : 
Chad Smith
Tri-County Record

Rushford-Peterson third-grade teacher Maryellen Dean is wrapping up a 38-year teaching career in fine style. Earlier this month, Dean was named as the “Fillmore County Teacher of the Year” and was honored at a ceremony at the R-P school on May 1. Dean was the second R-P teacher to receive the award in as many years; last year’s winner was Mary Hoiland, the retired fourth grade teacher.

Dean, who has spent all but one year of her career in the Rushford and Rushford-Peterson districts, admits it really hasn’t hit her yet that she won’t be returning as a teacher in the fall.

“I’ve spent 37.89 years in teaching,” Dean said with a smile. “Retirement really hasn’t sunk in yet. I’ve definitely got some mixed feelings. I’ve stayed here because I love the community and I love the kids. Plus, the staff here is terrific to work with.”

Dean’s interest in teaching was first sparked when she worked summer jobs with children during her school years. She particularly enjoyed working with children at a preschool and loved that young children were always very eager to learn. Dean also noticed that she learned a lot when working with kids. That love of working with kids led her to study teaching and coaching at the College of St. Theresa in Winona.

Dean lived in Needham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, through her junior year of high school, when her family moved to Chicago. After graduation Dean headed to school in Winona because several family members had gone there too.

“I studied elementary education and I got my coaching certificate,” Dean recalled. “Upon graduation, I went looking for my first job, and there were a lot of elementary teachers out there looking for work, with not many teaching positions open.

“Once I got a job, I was a little nervous walking into my first classroom as a full-time teacher. I’d had a lot of field experience in my student teaching, but a real classroom is quite a bit different. However, it didn’t take long before I became comfortable in the job, and it became apparent that I’d chosen the right profession.”

The long-time educator says one of the things that makes the teaching interesting is the constant change. For examples, Dean points to advancements in technology and the level of the curriculum being taught to elementary students. “I taught fourth grade when I was starting my career,” she said. “Now I’m teaching third grade, and a lot of what was the fourth-grade curriculum back in those days is now the third-grade curriculum. Expectations have gotten higher with our state standards, all the way down to kindergarten. The neat thing is the kids are rising to the challenge of the higher expectations on them.

“The thing I love about third grade is it’s a transition time in [kid’s] lives,” Dean said. “They become a little more independent by the time they are done with the grade, their study skills have gotten better, and they want to learn themselves. I loved teaching fourth grade back in the day, but third grade is now the equivalent of what fourth grade was back then.”

According to Dean, one of the most memorable moments in her career was enduring not one, but two, bouts of cancer. She said the entire school celebrated with her when she finished her round of treatments. Dean said the kids were what kept her going when it got tough, and she will remember celebrating with them forever.

Dean considers one of teaching’s bigger challenges is that a group of kids enters the classroom at all different levels of learning. She says teachers have to adjust what they do with every child, which takes a lot of time and effort. In addition to classroom time, Dean would work with kids over her prep hours, get things ready every day, and strive to be creative and hold kids’ interest in the topics.

Highly active in sports in her school years, Dean enjoyed coaching as her teaching career began; she was the assistant swimming coach at Winona, then enjoyed roles as the head girls’ basketball coach, JV volleyball coach, and the head girls’ golf coach at Rushford.

“I’m very fortunate, in that several of my former students are now teachers at R-P,” Dean said. “They include Jade Pelzl, who’s a former student and now my coworker. Lacy Drinkall, a current kindergarten teacher, was a student of mine. Amber Meisch was one of my students, as was current Ag Teacher/FFA Advisor Colby Lind, with several others as well. I’m really happy that these former students have turned into excellent teachers.”
Does she have any advice for young teachers just starting out? “Get to know your kids as well as you can,” Dean said. “It’s not just about the academic part. You have to know how the children think and feel. Just know that they’re all different and they’re all going through many different things outside the school.”

What are her retirement plans? “I really don’t know,” Dean said thoughtfully. “I do have a 97-year-old mom that I’m going to help take care of. Other than that, I’m going to wait and see, and just take things as they come.”