By Kremena Spengler
NEW ULM - Susan Brandel has been praised for her gentle, low-key style and kindness, and it's certainly something that comes through as she reminisces about her several decades of teaching.
Staff photo by Kremena Spengler
Susan Brandel is retiring from teaching after 40 years in the profession. She has taught at Washington Elementary in New Ulm since 1999.
Brandel, a fourth-grade teacher at Washington Elementary School, is retiring at the end of the current school year.
"Her passion for kids and her kind, gentle style will be greatly missed," says Les Koppendrayer, Washington Elementary Principal.
Brandel grew up on a dairy farm near Winthrop homesteaded in the early 1800s. Her brother and his wife are the fifth generation to live on the farm.
"Farm work instilled in us the integrity of life; hard work, dedication, endurance, perseverance, positive attitude, goals and purpose. Our parents instilled in us to be kind to one another, help each other and work together," says Brandel.
"As I look back and remember my childhood, it was so wholesome, even with all the hard, physical work. We didn't have a lot of money, but yet it seemed we lived in a castle. God has always been the cornerstone in our firm foundation."
"The rule of thumb was 'work before play,' which I have passed on to my students. With that mindset, our work was an integral part of our play," says Brandel.
Brandel's parents influenced her in becoming a teacher.
"They knew how much I loved working with children," says Brandel. "They believed strongly in getting a good education."
Two of her elementary teachers, Martha Hedine and Faye Swenson, and two of her high school teachers, Lois Meyer and Wayne Schrupp, also influenced her decision to go into teaching.
"I am grateful to all who encouraged me to so, for it has been an incredible profession," says Brandel.
Brandel graduated from Winthrop High School in 1971 and from Southwest State University in Marshall in 1975.
Her student teaching in Montevideo was "a unique experience," says Brandel. She student-taught in kindergarten and third-grade classrooms in the spring, and was "fortunate" to teach at a migrant school in summer; "a great learning experience working with a different culture."
In the summer of 1975, Brandel was offered two teaching positions, one in Comfrey and one Winthrop. She accepted the position to teach kindergarten in Winthrop. She taught there for four years, then resigned to stay home and raise the family's two children. She subbed in area school districts.
Eventually, she began teaching for District 88 in Lafayette, in a combined third/fourth grade classroom. She taught in that position for 15 years. In 1999, she moved to Washington School, teaching fourth grade there for 15 years, up to the present.
Brandel has served on various organizations and committees, including Delta Kappa Gamma, Student Council Advisory Organization, Healthy and Safety Committee, Social Studies Curriculum Committee, the Professional Learning Team and I Observation Team.
"My philosophy of education is to keep that love of pursuing wisdom for life. As educators, we share that love of learning with our young people so that they, too, will go out into the world with the zest of becoming the best they can be in society," says Brandel.
"Teaching takes patience, love, kindness and a positive attitude to work diligently with young children," adds Brandel. "Our children are valuable, and we need to give them the best education and upbringing that we can."
"Today, with technology, we can do so much that we couldn't do 30 years ago," she continues.
For example, her class was pen pals with students in Armenia this past year, taught by a former student of hers, Alissa Morson, and the class was able to send e-mails and photos back and forth.
"One of my students and her pen pal skyped recently; I only dreamt of that happening when I first started teaching."
What makes her "sad" is "how much stress some children have to struggle with while trying to be successful in school," says Brandel.
"We, as educators, need to look for the good in everyone to help them strive for excellence."
Like frames on a roll of film, Brandel's many memorable moments during her teaching pass through the conversation - her mother coming to school to help make home-made soap; her grandmother coming for Grandparents Day and bringing along Brandel's own kindergarten and fourth-grade teachers; being pen pals with the residents of Oak Hills; taking her kindergartners on a nature hike and stopping to say hi to her grandparents as the class passed their home in Winthrop; her kindergarten teacher (Martha Hedine) giving lessons to her students while a resident at the assisted living facility in Lafayette; being penpals with Alissa Morson's Armenian students...
A low point comes up as well - losing her paraprofessional and dear friend, Mary Ann Johnson, to cancer during her last year in Lafayette.
"Her friendship I hold dear to my heart," says Brandel.
"Teaching has been my life for the past 40 years, and I have enjoyed it immensely," says Brandel. "Touching so many lives is gratifying. Former students have gone on to become awesome parents, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, farmers, truck drivers, construction workers, teachers, tradesmen, beauticians and countless other careers. I thank God for helping me to be part of their education."
"Education is for everyone and now, more than ever, we have to keep finding new and innovative ways to reach out young people," says Brandel. "It takes knowledge, patience, love and kindness for excellence to be achieved."