Time to go: RES teacher Ray Olchefski retiring
A lot in Ray Olchefski's life has changed over
the last three-plus decades. He has gotten
married. Raised a family. He's grown and shaved a
beard. One thing, though, has stayed constant for
all of Olchefski's adult life.
For the past 36 years, from September through
June, Olchefski has gotten up in the morning and
gone to work at Rosemount Elementary School. He
has taught class after class of Rosemount second
graders about reading, writing, math and other
subjects. And he has loved nearly every minute of
Now, that is changing. When the school bell rang
at the end of the day Thursday, Olchefski packed
up his desk for the last time and headed into
Retiring now makes sense for Olchefski. His wife
is retiring this year, and he has a chance to go
out while he still loves what he is doing - and
still is able to keep up with the kids he teaches.
"I've given a lot of time to children and now
it's time to give my time to something else,"
Olchefski didn't set out to be a second grade
teacher. Growing up, he spent weekends helping
his uncles on their farm, so he thought about
being a farmer. He also liked math, so he thought
about teaching the subject to high school
students. It was in college he turned his
attention to elementary education. He tried
student teaching at the fifth grade level and
liked it. He tried student teaching in a second
grade classroom and loved it. He loved the
students' energy, he said, and their enthusiasm
"At that age they have a twinkle in their eye,"
he said. "They're excited all the time. I think
fifth graders have it too, but the second graders
have it more. They keep me young."
Olchefski loves kids in general. He often finds
himself out at restaurants making faces at the
kids the next table.
Olchefski has spent more than half of his life
teaching, but he has also spent a lot of time
learning. He learned, for example, how much he
enjoys being creative.
When Olchefski started teaching he was a
self-described "concrete sequential." He taught
subjects in order, one at a time. Over the years,
that changed. When a colleague retired 15 years
ago, Olchefski started thinking about the end of
his own career. To get those thoughts out of his
head he decided to decorate his classroom with a
theme, and to tie that theme into the lessons he
taught during the year.
Olchefski's first theme was "Think Big," and he
has followed his own advice every year since. He
has built a full-size paper fishing boat on his
ceiling and a dock complete with Cabbage Patch
Kid fishermen. He has turned his classroom into a
rainforest and a desert. The kids like the
decorations, and Olchefski loved putting them up.
Olchefski wasn't always sure his enthusiasm for
teaching would last as long as it has. When he
was in his 30s he started to wonder if he would
still be teaching in his 40s or 50s. Now 58, he
enjoys his job more than he ever has.
"All along the way I would stop myself and say,
'Would I rather be doing something else?'"
Olchefski said. "All along the answer was no."
It is in part because he still enjoys teaching so
much Olchefski believes now is a good time to
retire. He wants to go out while he still loves
the job, and while he can still get down on the
floor with his students - and back up afterward.
"I never wanted to teach to the point where I
said I'm tired of teaching and I'm counting the
days until retirement," Olchefski said.
For the sake of perspective, consider this: the
students from Olchefski's first class are now in
their early 40s. He has started to get the
children of former students in his classes. A lot
can change in that kind of time.
Olchefski has seen the changes in teaching. When
he started, teaching was done mostly from
workbooks. Now, he said, things are more
practical and more applicable to the real world.
It is a change Olchefski likes.
He has seen changes in the students, too, at
least in some ways. Students today are more
worldly, he said, savvier about technology. But
they are not really all that different from their
counterparts 36 years ago.
"They still giggle and they still laugh,"
Olchefski said. "I, after 36 years, am still
amazed at what they can do. They're like little
adults.... It's amazing how much they've learned
in seven and eight years. It amazes me all the
As the final days of the school year wind down
Olchefski finds himself occasionally thinking
about his career. Leaving will be hard, he said,
but he doesn't expect to look back much once the
last day of school is over.
RES employees gave Olchefski a going away party
last Friday. As a gift they gave him a toolbox
signed by his fellow teachers. It was also signed
by several former students. Some of Olchefski's
former students who are currently at Rosemount
High School also collected giftts for him.
Olchefski doesn't have a lot planned for his
retirement, and he likes it that way. He expects
to take a vacation next fall - around the time
school starts, he said, to make the trip feel
special - but beyond that he's not sure what
he'll do. He plans to stay active, but doesn't
expect to do any substitute teaching. He said he
would miss the opportunity to develop the kind of
relationships he can now form with his students.
"I see retirement as kind of an adventure to
start over again," Olchefski said. "I'm going to
take more walks and eat better.
"I think it's going to feel good and feel sad at
the same time. It's going to be mixed."