Kathy Danaher- 39 years of making a difference for kids

Veteran Caledonia Area Elementary School teacher Kathy Danaher completed her last days in the classroom this past Friday. Photo by Clay Schuldt

By Clay Schuldt
Special for the Argus

Caledonia Elementary Grade School Teacher Kathy Danaher is retiring from the Caledonia School District after 40 years of teaching.  In her career as a teacher, Danaher has taught hundreds of Caledonia area students from first through fifth grade. Several times she has even had the privilege of teaching a second generation student.

Early teaching years

Danaher began her teaching career in 1973. For Danaher the decision to become a teacher was simply a matter of following her passion.

“I guess I’ve always loved to learn,” she said. “If I was given a job that I thought would make a difference, I figured teaching would be it.”

While Danaher did not begin her teaching career in Caledonia, she did start close by.

“I taught in Eitzen in what they called the ‘Little Room’ and that was grades one, two and three.  I was there from 1973 to 1980.”

When enrollment fell at the Eitzen Little Room after 1980, Danaher transferred over to Caledonia Elementary. The ‘Little Room’ is no longer a classroom, but it does still exist in Eitzen, as Danaher explained the building has since been renovated into a house.  This would be the first of many changes Danaher would witness in her time as an elementary teacher.

A wealth of changes and memories

Danaher admitted that over the years there has been a struggle to adapt with changes in technology, saying, “Computers have always been a challenge, and we’re always hoping they will work.”

As fate would have it the Caledonia School District will see a significant upgrade in technology including the addition of Smart Boards, iPads and laptops just as Danaher is retiring.

“I just missed out on it, but I’ll come back and take a look.  It would be very fun to see all that.”

When asked about her favorite age group, Danaher was unable to name a favorite and joked: “It depends on what age I am.”

Currently working the first grade, Danaher did comment on positive attributes of the six and seven year-olds she worked with in her last year at Caledonia.

“They are so excited about everything. By the end of the year they are reading like crazy. I think that is one the neatest things, because you see a huge progression in the year. It’s wonderful to see them get excited about reading all sorts of different things.

“The greatest reward is seeing kids loving what they learned and that they are excited to learn more.”

Of course on the flip side the biggest challenge for Danaher has been keeping things exciting. “I take cues from kids.  I ask, what have you liked in the past? Then do things that are similar but not the same.”

Danaher has a wealth of great memories from teaching, but one great moment stuck with her over the years.

“When I taught third grade I told the kids we were going to learn division. I told them it wouldn’t be hard, it would just be different. I lied through my teeth on that one,” Danaher admitted.

However, her students were able to rise to the challenge.

“This one little girl went home over the weekend and she worked with her mom on division. Math wasn’t always easy for this girl so this was a big challenge for her. She came back to school on Monday and she was kind of getting it. Then on the bottom of one of her papers, in very small letters, she wrote: “I am great”.  For me it was a lesson that if you just raise the bar a little bit, a reachable bit, kids find their own reward in achieving it.”

Retirement plans

Danaher admitted that the realization that she is retiring from teaching has not yet set in, saying “I don’t think it will really hit me until September.”

Though she is retiring from teaching, Danaher does not intend to give up working.

“I’ll be working at least part-time in a people related field,” said Danaher.  Over the years she has had several part-time jobs including Summer Rec in Eitzen, teaching summer school, working in a book store, clothing store, a quilt shop and working as a secretary in an insurance firm. In addition, Danaher would like to volunteer her time with literacy programs.  In general she wants to “see what’s out there.”

Danaher is continuing to sort through the papers and materials she has collected over 39 years as a teacher. She plans to donate most of the books in the classroom to the school library. “There is nothing sadder than a book that is not read over and over again.”

Looking back, Danaher is proud of her time spent as a teacher, and has no regrets, saying simply: “What a privilege it has been to teach these children.”