Dan Winkelman at his desk in his classroom, room 113, at Columbus Elementary, where he teaches about 20 students this year. He is hopeful to remain in-person this school year after Columbus students returned to in-person classes in January 2021. 

The impact of teaching in one community for 50 years

Dan Winkelman pointed at the next two empty slots on the plaque hanging in the vestibule of Columbus Elementary that honors retired faculty members and said, “I’m assuming that Mrs. Lindeman and Mr. Winkelman will be right there.”

Winkelman and Alison Lindeman are the third grade teachers at Columbus Elementary. He said between the two of them they have over 80 years of teaching experience, as he celebrates his 50th year as a teacher at Columbus Elementary.

“I’m already getting siblings [of students], ‘Oh, you have to stay one more year for me.’ Well, I’ll never leave then,” Winkelman laughed, talking about if he will follow through with retirement after this year or not.

It’s become a joke among the Columbus faculty that Winkelman will continue to say it’ll be his last year for the next few years, he said. However, the lack of routine that comes with retirement has kept him teaching for so long.

“That’s the biggest challenge I’m having right now. That’s kind of what has deterred me so many years — ‘What am I gonna do?’” Winkelman said

He said this past year, when school went to a virtual platform, he thought about retiring, but stayed to support his co-workers.

“They talk about a village. … There’s no way I could’ve done this without my co-workers,” Winkelman said.

He said throughout the virtual school year, he tried to divide his technical questions amongst his co-workers to “spread the wealth” and not burden one teacher with all of the technical difficulties that come with virtual learning.

“That’s the nature of it: We share, we work, there are no shirkers. Everybody pulls their part of the deal, and they do more than their share in most cases. And so, that’s just the nature of it; it’s just like it’s a family,” Winkelman said.

Although retirement could be on his horizon, he said he would consider subbing or volunteering strictly at Columbus Elementary because of the community that the two principals, Larry Carlson and Neal Fox, have cultivated.

Learn and listen

Winkelman originally started at Forest View Elementary before Columbus Elementary opened in 1972. He had three years of experience teaching third grade when he applied to teach at Columbus.

“From there it’s just history; they never moved me and I never asked to be moved [from third grade teaching],” Winkelman said.

He admitted that he didn’t have a passion for the career of teaching, but noted that his passion for providing tools to his students to be “productive adults” has been important throughout his career.

“I think because I am empathetic, I have a real — I don’t know — passion for people. And that just, I guess I would hope I could impart that to them,” Winkelman said.

Aside from following the changing curriculum throughout his tenure, he tried to teach and share some of the good qualities of his character with his students over the years. He specifically noted his quality of loving to learn: “You will never be too old to learn,” he said.

Although teaching students the building blocks of education is his job description, Winkelman went a step further to provide a worthwhile influence on his students’ lives from how he conducted his classroom and treated his students that stretch across generations now.

“I hope I’ve had a positive impact on their lives. … I don’t want them to think of school as bad or negative. I don’t want them to have a feeling of school, [that] they don’t like school,” Winkelman said.

Which is how Winkelman felt about school when he was a student. His decision to become a teacher did not originate from having an influential teacher during his early education days; it was almost the opposite.

“I didn’t have the best experience as a student. … To be a teacher is kind of, I guess, kind of a miracle in a sense ‘cause that’s not what I would’ve thought,” he said.

Winkelman learned from his negative experiences throughout his school career and said his legacy and lasting impact on his students has stemmed from one idea: listening.

“Listen, listen to your kids. And value them as a human being, not just because they’re a little kid, you know, they think they don’t matter, but they do matter. That’s why I’m here. That’s the most important thing,” he said.

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