As an Onamia High School alumna, Debbie Anderlie is well acquainted with the Mille Lacs area school. Her teaching career has lead to her working with the Onamia School District for many years. She has had a handful of positions with the school and currently teaches art for elementary students. Continuing this series on Lessons Learned, the Messenger spoke with Anderlie on her lifelong dedication to education and how that dedication is now inspiring her to instruct the students of her own hometown school.
Q: How long have you been teaching your subject?
A: I began my career teaching a long-term position in first grade in Foley and the next year in their Title I program. After that, I got my very own third grade class in Little Falls. In 1985, I got to come back home and teach in Onamia. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching: third, kindergarten, Title I, fourth (15 years) and art for Pre-K through 5th.
I always looked forward to the time each year when my classroom of students accepted each other’s differences and realized their similarities enough to become a “family of friends.”
Q: Was there a point in your life you realized you were passionate about pursuing a career in education?
A: As early as third grade, I knew I was going to be a teacher. After Mom caught me writing (with chalk) on the wallpaper of my room, I received my first chalkboard and my own “classroom” in the basement. My little sister was my first student and my uncle’s extra worksheets and old teacher manual, my guides.
I still remember the feeling of thinking I was the only one who didn’t understand what the teacher was explaining and of being too shy and embarrassed to ask questions. I wanted to be a teacher who could patiently explain a lesson in a step-by-step way that would ensure my students would “get it.”
Q: What was your own experience with school growing up? How did your experiences there influence your continued career in education?
A: My sixth grade teacher, Miss Korogi, was my mentor. I observed how she taught, related to and disciplined her students. She let me run dittoes, stay after to clean the classroom, correct and organize papers. She even wrote to me after my family moved up north.
Mrs. Carla Miller, our seventh grade English and art teacher, mesmerized us as she read, “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Each character had a distinct voice…she read so beautifully. She also encouraged us to use our imaginations to create art. I was very shy, and she encouraged me.
It was my parents, though, who always believed in me. They signed me up for theater to help with the shyness, hung up my artwork, listened to my practice lessons and even bought a piano because “every” kindergarten teacher played piano in her room. They were very proud of their daughter, the school teacher.
Q: What approach do you take to teaching?
A: I like organizing the lesson plans and creating a “grand plan.”
I love the sound of the paper-cutter slicing construction paper, the smell of school lunch wafting through the halls and the feeling of a big hug from a student. I enjoy designing bulletin boards and displays, creating learning centers and teaching fourth grade social studies. I adore reading books aloud with such expression and rhythm that my listeners lose track of “now” and go on the story’s adventure with me. I still miss throwing traditional classroom parties.
Q: Are there aspects of your career that you appreciate or that continue to inspire you?
A: Since I was eight years old, I have either been dreaming of being a teacher, working to earn money to go to college to be a teacher, or achieved the ultimate goal and was a teacher creating plans to teach. It’s been really difficult for me to let go and retire.
I love being a wife to Roger, mom to Joel, Andy and Leo. My boys have so many loving and funny memories of their days with Grandma. I yearn to have weekly “Grandma Days” to make “Grandma and Maverick” memories. Who knows, maybe I’ll even do little subbing or an after-school art class, too.
Every morning I went to school, Mom would tell me, “Do your best.” I am grateful for the years I was able to teach young ones to do their best. I hold each and every one of my students in my heart (yup, they’re all there). I appreciate the honor of becoming the first art teacher in Onamia Elementary.
I am blessed with the opportunity to help my students realize they are artists (they are in control), their creation is good (they are enough), mistakes are okay (they have the power to fix a problem) and there is satisfaction in a job well-done (doing your best gives you a great feeling). The plaque my son made for me is so true – “Teaching is a work of heart.”