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End of one era

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education Cottage Grove, 55016
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

After 40 years as a part of District 833, Liberty Ridge Elementary School third grade teacher Mary Wellman has seen a lot of change. Wellman has seen everything from women teachers being forbidden to wear pants to no outdoor recess to not having specialist teachers.

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"I've seen a lot of changes, but the thing that has remained constant is the 8- and 9-year-olds," she said.

Wellman, 62, will be retiring at the end of this year.

"I'm young enough to still do a lot of other things," she said. "I'm old enough that I can afford to retire."

Wellman, who graduated with a degree in elementary education from Macalester College, said being a teacher was always the career path she wanted -- thanks to her fourth-grade teacher.

"I've wanted to be a teacher since I was about 10 years old," she said. "I had a wonderful fourth grade teacher and I just adored her and wanted to be like her.

"I never thought about doing anything else really, this is just what I wanted to do."

When Wellman, who lives in Woodbury, graduated from college, she got her first job at Pine Hill Elementary School, in Cottage Grove, in 1970. She stayed there for 21 years.

"I thought Cottage Grove just sounded like a pretty place, but I'd never been there before," she said. "They offered me a job. I took it."

In fact, one of Wellman's former students is Cottage Grove mayor Myron Bailey.

"I'm pretty proud about that," she said.

Over the past 40 years, Wellman has bounced between different district schools -- 10 years at Bailey Elementary, 2 to 3 years at Red Rock Elementary and the last seven years at Liberty Ridge.

Wellman said she always knew that she wanted to be an elementary school teacher because of the opportunity to watch students grow and develop.

"Being with little kids, there's nothing better -- they're just so full of fun and surprises," she said. "Watching them grow, watching them learn, watching them reach goals is just wonderful -- I love being part of that. It's really a privilege."

During her time as an elementary school teacher, Wellman said the most rewarding part of the job has been helping students reach their goals.

"I love helping them meet goals and making them feel safe and comfortable to take risks to reach those goals," she said. "You'd be amazed at what these little 9-year-olds can come up with. They're thinkers. It's really fun to hear what they can come up with when they think outside the box."

Being an elementary teacher comes with its fair share of challenges however, Wellman said, mainly trying to change curriculum with the emerging trends.

"But, by challenges I don't mean things that are negative -- challenges are really stimulating," she said.

Another challenge that elementary school teachers have to face is being able to teach all the subjects within a nine-month time period.

"You have to realize that you can't do everything," she said. "We're good, but we're not that good."

When Wellman retires this year, she said she willgreatly miss being able to interact with kids on a daily basis.

"If you're down, or tired, the kids lift you right up and I'm going to miss being with them every day," she said. "I know when I'm out in public I'll see little kids and wish that I could stop and talk with them for a while."

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