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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 said.

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

for learning.

"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."