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Local teachers recognized

FAIRMONT — On Tuesday, Education Minnesota-Fairmont honored its five retiring teachers: Heidi Luhmann, Kevin Kristenson, Joice Forster, Michelle Grotte and Rochelle Franzen. The 2021 Friend of Education was also recognized.

Bruce Abitz received the Friend of Education award. High School English Teacher Jonas Nissen presented Abitz with the award.

“He is a 1971 graduate of Fairmont and he has never lost his passion for this school and school district,” said Nissen.

Nissen went on to recount some of the many times that Abitz has helped with sound and technology during school productions and other events. Most recently, Abitz has been helping Nissen get the high school’s production studio set up.

“Not only should this person be dedicated as the friend of education, this person should be dedicated as the friend of Fairmont,” Nissen said.

Upon accepting his award, Abitz complimented the teachers present on their shared passion.

“They get up in the morning and they get to go to work and thank God they get to go to work. I love working with people and students that do that and that’s my biggest motivator,” Abitz said.

Heidi Luhmann started teaching second and third grade in Ceylon and when the districts combined, she began teaching in Fairmont. She is currently a fourth-grade teacher and has been teaching for 33 years.

“I always had a joy of working with children. I didn’t put it all together until after I graduated from high school. My mother was a teacher and she kind of guided me in that direction,” Luhmann.

Luhmann stressed the joy she’s had for her job, day after day throughout all of these years.

“Every day is a new day. I cannot even remember a day in those 33 years where I would wake up and think ‘oh, I have to go to work today.’ Every day is a new experience,” Luhmann said.

Speaking about the changes in education over the years, Luhmann said technology has definitely changed the way she teaches.

“When I first started teaching in 1988, I did not even have a computer in my classroom, not even a teacher desktop computer. Now the kids are on their chrome books multiple times a day researching or doing assessments,” Luhmann said.

Despite all the changes, Luhmann said year after year the students are pretty much the same.

“They still like to learn and have a love for learning and for the most part they like to come to school,” she said.

Luhmann shared she has taught some children of former students, and she’s also had the opportunity to teach with some former students as colleagues.

Luhmann plans to spend more time with her grandchildren and would like to travel with her husband in her retirement.

Kevin Kristenson taught at East Chain and Granada-Huntley East Chain Schools for 33 years and most recently at Fairmont for four years. He has taught fifth or sixth grade his entire teaching career.

Kristenson said he originally wanted to be an ag teacher, but back in the early 80s during the farming crisis, they were cutting ag programs. His sister, who is also a teacher, suggested he become an elementary teacher instead.

“I had done some little league coaching and liked working with younger kids so I switched majors to becoming an elementary teacher,” Kristenson said.

Kristenson said throughout his teaching career he’s enjoyed the variety that each day has brought.

“Every year has been different, every day has been different. The kids are different and the parents are different,” he said.

Kristenson farms on the side and plans to do that during his retirement, as well as some activities for himself.

“My goal is to do something fun every day. It might take five minutes or five hours but I hope to do something fun every day,” Kristenson said.

Joice Forster began her teaching career in Trimont where she taught for three years. She has been teaching at Fairmont Area Schools for 36 years, for a total of 39 years as a teacher.

Forster said there’s no one at the school as long as she’s been there except for one paraprofessional. During her time at the school, she’s had many different co-workers and administrators.

“You really develop close relationships. They’re your life-long friends. You do so much together and you’re all on a united cause to help kids learn,” she said.

Forster has worked under just three principals, which she said have been really supportive and have let her try new things.

“I always felt that at Fairmont I was in such a professional organization. It’s been run very professionally all along,” she said.

She started out teaching 6th grade and never felt like she wanted to go younger, but then she began teaching third grade.

Forster currently teaches 3rd grade but has been a looping teacher since 1991, meaning she stays with the same students for third and fourth grade.

“When I started looping third and fourth grade, I knew that was my niche. The growth is immense between those two years where they go from a dependent learner to independent. I teach them how to read and by the end of fourth grade they’re reading on their own,” Forster said.

In addition to being a teacher, Forster was also the union vice president for eight years and president for four years before she stepped down about a year ago.

“I’ve always been an advocate for teachers and education and I think Education Minnesota has done a good job of leading us in the right direction,” Forster said.

Even though she is retiring, Forster still plans to stay on and work as a substitute teacher. She also plans to spend time with her grandchildren and would love to travel with friends and family.

“There are so many community things I would like to get involved with and I’m excited to have the time to do that now,” Forster said.

Forster said she has kept her philosophy on teaching pretty simple: have high expectations for your students, hold them accountable and most importantly truly love each and every student by your words and actions.

Michelle Grotte also retired after spending 23 years as an elementary teacher and Rochelle Franzen spent 30 years working as an elementary teacher.

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