Live to serve, not to be served. That has been Jim Drill’s motto throughout life — a motto he has also followed throughout his 34-year teaching career at Upsala Area Schools. It is also the advice he gives anyone who asks for any wise words as he retired Friday, May 29.
“If you continue this way, your heart will always be at peace,” he said.
The idea to enter into the education field occurred to Drill when he was a first year student at the University of Wisconsin in River Falls, Wis. It happened by accident.
“As a freshman I could not get the classes I wanted and so then I selected an intro to elementary education class as a filler for a general credit,” he said.
At the end of the quarter, Drill and the other students were given a two-week practicum at a local elementary school. The students seemed to really enjoy having him around, he said.
After a talk with the school’s principal, Drill said he learned that small schools were in a high need of male elementary school teachers who were also willing to coach sports. It seemed like a perfect fit for Drill as he had played football, basketball and baseball at New Ulm High School and had a deep desire to coach one day.
Drill continued his education at St. Cloud State University and graduated in 1986 with a elementary teaching degree with a minor in reading and coaching.
Since his fiancée, now wife, Jeni, was studying at the University of Wisconsin in Stout, Wis. at the time, Drill said he tried to find a teaching job within 30 miles of her. However, he found no job prospects.
Meanwhile, the superintendent at Upsala Area Schools, aware of Drill’s two years of football coaching experience at the St. Cloud Cathedral High School, was trying to entice him to come to the town of Upsala. As football practice was starting the second week of August and with no coach available, Drill said the superintendent was quite desperate for a coach to come to his school.
“I remember getting calls from him after 10 o’clock at night and even on Sundays. Well, with no other offers on the table, I drove the windy Highway 238 up from Albany and was wondering where in the world the Lord had me going,” Drill said.
Now after 34 years of teaching, Drill wonders where the years went. It almost seemed like it was yesterday.
While Drill has enjoyed teaching fifth grade English to his students who allowed him to help them learn and excel in language arts, Drill said teaching gave him so much. It gave him the opportunity to truly make a difference in their lives by being a good role model and someone they could count on. Those are some of the memories that have followed him into his retirement.
Drill said some of the things he has enjoyed the most about being a teacher are the caring relationships that have developed over the years.
“It is wonderful when they trust you enough to share their hearts and struggles. These connections linger on in life and when 40-year-olds say, ‘Hi, Mr. Drill,’ it is quite a successful feeling. That is what I will miss the most about leaving the teaching career,” he said.
Drill incorporated a mixture of old school teaching and current technology in the classroom. The students sat in rows and were expected to raise their hands whenever they had a question.
He also moved around the classroom continuously has he found it helped the students stay on track. He allowed the students to move around the classroom, as well, at certain times with a structured purpose.
Over the years, Drill developed 25 basic speaking rules that were directed toward keeping the students’ language positive and encouraging. It emphasized that words, not only to others, but to individuals themselves, do matter.
One example if a student broke a speaking rule was to replace a negative word with a more positive way of communication. If a student said, “shut up,” or “I hate,” he or she was asked to write “please, be quiet” or “I strongly dislike” 25 times.
“The overall rule was that if you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all,” he said.
Looking back, the school system hasn’t changed much over the years, only the leadership.
“Right now we have Vern Capelle as superintendent who was a teacher here one year before me. He is doing a fantastic job because he had the experience of teaching as he now administrates,” he said.
However, one change seasoned teachers have noticed is the continuous advancement of technology used in schools. Now more than ever, as teachers across Minnesota had to move to distance learning in lieu of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Drill said ending his career with distance learning has definitely been a memorable way to retirement.
“It is of course much harder to connect in a deep way with students when you do not have them right in your physical presence. However, we must adapt and use technology to keep some sort of accountability and caring. The students really want to get back to the school building,” he said.
Drill said he has no solid plans for his retirement other than to support and spend time with his wife, children and two granddaughters.
He and Jeni also plan to begin to set up travel plans around the world. In addition, as an avid fisherman, Drill said he plans to find a muskie fishing buddy, as well.
“The older one gets, you learn to enjoy the day set before you and make the most of it,” he said.
Coaching has always been a big part of Drill’s career. During his years at Upsala Area Schools, he served as the head football coach for 22 years, the assistant boys basketball coach for nine years and has been coaching track in combination with Swanville Public School for four years.
Drill said that since he will continue to coach in track in his retirement, it will help ease his way out of the classroom.