PARDEEVILLE — More than a century of combined education experience easily fit inside a small middle school office in Pardeeville when Superintendent Gus Knitt opened the door for two longtime teachers.
Knitt, in his 40th year of education, wanted to thank Pat Bleich and Margaret Waldinger for 41 and 49 respective years of teaching in Pardeeville.
Knitt anticipated they wouldn’t be very keen on receiving recognition for their service — “I’ll get him back for this,” Waldinger said later — but their superintendent had decided they deserved kind words, at the very least.
“I’ve served several school districts in my 40 years, but you’ve each served one,” he told them on the first day of school for all Pardeeville students Wednesday. “In today’s society, where teachers are constantly moving around and where there’s maybe not as much loyalty, it’s remarkable.”
Bleich, born and raised in Rio, started teaching the fourth and fifth grade in 1978 in the school district’s since-closed country school in Marcellon. Eight years later, she started teaching sixth grade in Pardeeville and has taught that ever since. She’s taught virtually every subject over her four-plus decades and currently teaches math and social studies.
She has no plans to retire.
“I’ve always liked the way we do things in Pardeeville,” Bleich said. “If we’re ever not on the right track, we change things to improve.”
As an example, she recalled the district’s “Trailer Era” of about 15 years ago, an era preceding a $3.2 million construction referendum that would eventually make more room for middle school students. Trailers, for a while, were used to house sixth-grade students, but during one particular school year, Bleich and her peers felt overwhelmed.
“We felt we had so many students with such different needs, and so the school board hired a fourth teacher,” Bleich said.
“They listened to us.”
Waldinger, a rural Sauk City native, has taught high school social studies in Pardeeville since 1970 and on a part-time basis since 2010. She currently teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History and Current Affairs, heads Yearbook Production and has since the late 1970s coached the school’s cheer and dance team, today co-coaching alongside a former athlete of hers, Carmela Garcia.
Waldinger, too, has no plans to retire.
“There has never been anything that pushed me to want to go elsewhere,” she said. “There has always been something to keep my interest.
“Education keeps a person younger. I feel as though I understand the world better based on my experience in education.”
Bleich won’t ever forget the day one of her students swallowed a coin.
“My classroom was watching a film when this happened,” she said with a laugh, remembering how she tried to execute the Heimlich maneuver on her young student, “but he was just so little it felt like I was only lifting him off the ground.”
The male student survived the ordeal, of course, and many years later, his daughter, now a freshman in Pardeeville, reminded Bleich of the incident.
“She came in and laid some coins on my table. So he must remember it, too.”
With the 17th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, set to occur next week, Waldinger recalled the moment when teachers were told over the intercom to turn on their TVs.
“Students were coming back from their milk break, as we called it, and then we were all just following the events as they came in,” Waldinger said. “Stores were closed. People were stranded in various places. Sports games were canceled.
“And it was a beautiful day outside. The students couldn’t understand how such a series of events would impact their lives, even years later.”
Comparing today’s world to how things were when the educators started teaching more than 40 years ago reveals good changes and bad changes. Neither Bleich nor Waldinger considered one era better than another.
“It’s just different,” said Bleich, who noted how the dynamics of families have changed considerably through the years. There aren’t as many nuclear families today, Bleich said, and maybe more concerning is how most parents can’t spend as much time at home due to obligations at work. This creates its own set of challenges and other challenges will undoubtedly emerge later, both teachers said, but none of this overshadows improvements, such as in technology.
“Technology has aided education more than hurt it,” Waldinger said, also cautioning that too much screen time is a real problem.
“We’ve come a long way from mimeographs and typewriters, but now with the internet and Smartboards, there’s just no comparison.”
Better technology, she concluded, ultimately results in greater awareness among the students, which is especially positive considering her subject area.
“There are more opportunities for students today, even if technology sometimes isolates others,” Waldinger said. “In social studies, my hope is to always help students understand why life today is what it is and show them the importance of being a participatory citizen.”