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Bray retires after 42 years in Hermantown school district

Although her mother wanted her to become a bookkeeper, Linda Bray decided in kindergarten that she was going to become a teacher. When she became a kindergarten teacher in Hermantown, she mailed a note to her kindergarten teacher saying, "I made ...

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Rose Campos (left) of West St. Paul greets retiring fifth grade teacher Linda Bray at an open house at Casa Latte in Hermantown Wednesday evening. Bray is retiring after 42 years as a teacher in the Hermantown district. Campos was a student teacher in Bray's classroom, and retired from teaching several years ago. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Although her mother wanted her to become a bookkeeper, Linda Bray decided in kindergarten that she was going to become a teacher.

When she became a kindergarten teacher in Hermantown, she mailed a note to her kindergarten teacher saying, "I made it! I'm in kindergarten now!"

This spring, she retired from the profession she's loved for most of her life after 42 years of teaching in the Hermantown school district.

It didn't feel unusual to leave her classroom for the last time, she said, because it's typical to leave in June.

"I think in September, it'll feel weird," she said.

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She's taught fifth grade for the past five years and taught kindergarten for 17 years before that. She decided to retire now because all of the students she taught as kindergartners have made it through the fifth grade.

"That was kind of it. I have to leave sometime," she said.

She plays the piano for high school musicals, and she plans to continue to play until her kindergartners have made it through high school, she said.

Bray grew up in Hermantown and graduated from Hermantown High School in 1970.

She didn't initially want to teach in Hermantown because she was nervous about being a colleague with her teachers. Instead, she began her career teaching in Fredenburg Township. Teaching at the small school was "like heaven," she said. It housed first through fourth grades, and the small staff included only two teachers. Teaching there wasn't like she was returning to the hallways of the schools she attended as a student, she said.

But when Fredenberg's school closed, she needed to move to Hermantown Elementary School. She figured she would work for two years in Hermantown before leaving.

"Of course, when I got there, I loved it, and everyone was really nice and I stayed," she said.

In addition to teaching kindergarten and fifth grade, she also taught second, third and fourth grades during her career.

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"In teaching, you just take the kids as they are," she said. "The kids have always been the best."

She encouraged her students to continue learning and asking questions.

"The kids have always helped me learn, because whatever they were interested in ... we learned more about it," she said.

She studied American Sign Language when one of her students was hearing-impaired, reasoning that she'd probably have another hearing-impaired student at some point. That led her to teaching ASL through Community Education, and she continued to use ASL in her classroom for activities such as teaching the alphabet.

Bray also has had an array of classroom pets that included birds, rabbits, turtles, hamsters and guinea pigs, she said. "I never bought any," she said. "They just kind of showed up."

She obtained her first classroom pet, Fluffy, from an elderly man dying of cancer who wanted his guinea pig to go to children. Pets became a constant presence in her classroom after she saw the effect Fluffy had on a student in her class who hadn't spoken a word since school began six weeks earlier.

"He came in with his head down and shoulders slumped and shuffled in every day. He came in that day and went back to where Fluffy was and started talking to that guinea pig," she said. "He started talking to it because it was safe, didn't talk back and didn't judge him."

Her day-to-day work as a teacher was always driven by the needs of her students, she said.

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"It's important to give kids time to ask questions, time to let imaginations run, time to be who they are, and I hope I gave that," she said.

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Jane Mavec of Hermantown hugs retiring fifth grade teacher Linda Bray at an open house at Casa Latte in Hermantown Wednesday evening. Bray is retiring after 42 years as a teacher in the Hermantown district. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Related Topics: EDUCATIONHERMANTOWN
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