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Bob Hatlestad, Nette Gearman and Tom Fleming are set to retire from teaching after spending a combined 64 years at Jefferson High School in Alexandria. (Annie Harman/Echo Press)

Three teachers say goodbye to much more than a building

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With less than a month left of school, students and faculty are bidding farewell to the halls and classrooms of Jefferson High School (JHS). Three teachers, however, are walking away from more than school. With retirement on the horizon, Tom Fleming, Nette Gearman and Bob Hatlestad will be leaving the life they knew as teachers.

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With a combined 64 years at JHS, the three teachers have experienced a lot of change throughout the years.

“I remember when I started 12 years ago and they put me first in a [temporary] house,” Gearman said. “I thought, ‘Oh, no way, ick! It’s cold, wet, hot and drafty!’ But now I love it!”

As a special education teacher, Gearman believed that perhaps she was born too late and was supposed to be a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. She laughs about how happy she is that there was never room in the main building for her to move in.

Fleming, who teaches English, remembers a time where it was normal for students to come to school with a rifle in a case to give a speech on how to clean a gun in his sophomore speech class.

“I fondly remember a student giving a speech on how to clean a duck,” he said. The student demonstrated on a duck he had hunted with a large hunting knife. “Those things would never pass today. I miss the trust factor.”

Hatlestad, an art teacher, looks back on all his fellow teachers he’s worked with throughout the years.

“We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, but we did it together,” he said.

The three teachers agreed that they felt the time was right for retirement, regardless of JHS closing its doors at the end of the year.

“It was a very hard decision,” Gearman stated. “I have students that I would like to have until they graduate, but I knew that would happen every year.”

Hatlestad laughed about 35 years of teaching being a big enough sign that it was time for him to retire.

As for Fleming, not only did he feel connected to a core group of students who are now seniors, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to teach some of his favorite books one last time. Feeling passionate about teaching 1984 and Heart of Darkness, he explains that you can’t have deep discussions regarding literature in any random setting.

Between feeling connected to the staff over the years and building relationships with students who tend to come back and visit, the teachers agree that the school building alone is not a part of the bigger picture they took away from their careers.

“The building is merely a shell,” Fleming explained. “Any memory of my teaching years is planted in students who have walked past me.”

They all agree that the new Alexandria Area High School is exciting. While Fleming thinks the new academies will be a positive and Gearman appreciates the community involvement that will come from them, Hatlestad jokes about hoping the building will be big enough.

Whether or not the teachers will substitute in the future is yet to be seen. Though they admit the probability is there, they have a lot on their list of things to enjoy in their new, relaxed lives.

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Annie Harman
Annie Harman is a reporter for Echo Press and The Osakis Review. She grew up in Detroit Lakes and graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire with a degree in print journalism and history in May 2012. Follow her on Twitter at annieharman
(320) 763-1233
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