RMS teacher Kevin Hanzlik retires after 33 years
For all of his 33 years of teaching, Kevin Hanslik was usually the biggest kid in the room. The longtime Rosemount Middle School teacher, who retired in July, loved interacting with kids. He loved having fun. He loved making kids laugh.
Make a kid laugh, he figured, and you can get them to do just about anything. Including learn.
Usually, he did. And usually, they did. They learned. They changed. They grew.
Hanzlik was a teacher for 33 years, all but three of them at RMS. But he almost didn't get into the profession at all. He stumbled into the idea when he took an introductory elementary education class at St. Cloud State, but his career was almost derailed by his first student-teaching experience.
"I just didn't seem to be able to do anything right with them," he said. "I couldn't be myself, be friendly with the kids and get down there at their level."
It was Hanzlik's brother who convinced him to stick with it. He said it would be different when there wasn't someone constantly looking over his shoulder. And he was right.
Hanzlik started his career in 1977 teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grades at a parochial school in Sauk Center. He made $7,100 his first year. By his third, he was making $7,800. That's when he decided he could maybe make a better living somewhere else.
He said he was lucky to land in Rosemount. His application ended up in the pile with elementary school teachers, but the middle school needed someone who could teach sixth grade and coach baseball. Hanzlik fit the bill. He turned down a couple of jobs at schools where the policy was to be strict, not friendly, with students to come to RMS. He hasn't regretted it once.
"That place has a family atmosphere, and it's got a history of being different than the other middle schools," Hanzlik said. "That doesn't make us better. Just different."
If Hanzlik loved RMS, the school was pretty fond of him, too. Principal Mary Thompson called Hanzlik one of the best teachers she ever worked with. She described his ability to develop a rapport with students as a little bit of magic.
"I don't know if it's magic," Hanzlik said. "It's just me. The way I do things. You don't take a class for it."
One of Hanzlik's favorite parts of the job was watching kids change as they went through his class. Students would come in feeling like they were no good at learning and leave feeling more confident. Hanzlik would often tell students they wouldn't understand the effect he'd had on them until later in life when they realized what he was trying to accomplish.
He still gets notes occasionally from students who are starting their own families and writing to thank him for what he did."That makes it all worth it," Hanzlik said.
Thoughts about retirement started a few years ago, as Hanzlik neared the rule of 90 — a combination of age and years of experience. As of last October, he could bring home the same money in retirement as he could in a classroom.
Still, he worried about disappointing his students. He worried about disappointing Thompson.
His wife made the decision easy, though. She said if he didn't retire, he'd disappoint her.
Hanzlik made his decision July 13 and told Thompson July 15. He's still getting used to the idea, though. It gets harder as the start of the new school year approaches.
"I feel like I should be in a classroom, getting it ready, getting pumped up for workshop week," he said. "It's really hard to know that's not going to be there anymore. It's a really tough decision. I'm not leaving because I don't love the kids or I don't love the job. It's just, maybe it's time to do something new."
For the time being, "something new" will likely mean volunteering at Children's Hospital, working with kids who need someone to have fun with them. His dream has long been a retirement where he gets to rock babies.
He also plans to do some substitute teaching at RMS. It's the only place he wants to sub.
Walking away is hard, but Hanzlik knows he has a good career to look back on.
"I have been so lucky, so blessed," he said. "My biggest regret is that I didn't get a chance to truly thank everybody. I'm going to miss the kids terribly."