After 21 wonderful years at the Grantsburg School District, Linda Benge has made the decision to retire to make more time for family as a grandbaby is on the way.
For her last year teaching choir at the Grantsburg High School, it certainly has not been normal due to COVID-19. Benge has had to adapt to teaching choir online and she has said that the whole ordeal has been quite interesting.
“I miss singing horribly, it’s very sad not to be able to sing with kids, but it’s really fun to talk to them.”
Benge explains that she can hear everyone’s voice separately through this online teaching. Her choir has been running around 80 kids for the last few years, and in a group that large, she said she would usually hear from a very small percentage on any given day when they were in the choir room.
“Because some kids would just come in and do what they are supposed to do and are quiet and leave and you never really know what they are thinking, and it’s hard in a forty-minute class to making one-on-one contact with 80 kids.”
She said it has been very fun for her to ask questions and write back to every one of her students individually and get to know them more. She explained that it has also been a chore trying to find new ways to teach choir online.
There was a point in Benge’s life when she actually didn’t think she was going to be a teacher at all. When she started going to college, she was, surprisingly, very determined not to be a teacher.
“My dad used to say, Linda, you can do anything, don’t be a teacher, don’t be a secretary, be an architect, be a doctor, be a lawyer.” So, she started undergraduate school and was absolutely not going to be a teacher.
“One of my theater classes put me in classrooms several times a week just trying out theater games, it was an improvisational theater creative dramatics class, and so I had to go in and teach kids, and it was like, oh my gosh, this is the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life, why would I not want to do this?”
She received a lot of really positive feedback from how she worked with the kids in the classroom and it felt very natural. She was a theater major and a music minor at the time but could not teach music with a minor. After going back in the summer to take more classes, Benge double majored and ended up getting hired as a choir director for her first job. Her first class that she taught graduated in 1976 in Southern Minnesota.
Benge had actually left teaching for a little bit while living in the Twin Cities and did freelance theater for a while. Some of her freelance work included acting, directing and playwriting while working a few hours in a flower store to have some guaranteed income.
“Then my husband got a job at The Burnett County Sentinel and he said we’re moving to Grantsburg, and I said, ‘Huh, I bet the freelance theater work isn’t real good there,’ and it wasn’t.”
Benge was originally hired at the Grantsburg School District as a Gifted and Talented teacher for kindergarten through fifth grade. Before the school year started that first year that she was hired on, the high school was looking for someone to work the high school’s School to Work class, so she was given that position as well.
She states that each year after that her positions just changed a little each year as she continued to take on new roles. “It was really fun, I liked trying new things.”
Many roles were held by Benge in her years at the district. After starting in the Gifted and Talented program, she also started teaching theater and drama very quickly in the summer school program and she worked a few hours a week with homebound students. She worked her way toward being the director of the high school and middle school choirs and swing choirs and had a CLC choir for fourth, fifth and sixth graders. For the last few years, she has been doing middle school musicals in summer school.
A favorite role of hers was directing high school and middle school plays. “Theater is just so special, because you work so closely with people for so long and it really is a community effort.”
Some favorite memories that she will always hold dear is the phenomenal traveling experiences that she has had with her choirs. Every other year the high school choir has taken trips since she started teaching and the last trip was to New York City, and two years prior was a trip to Chicago. Before that were trips to New Orleans and Memphis.
“Those trips really set apart time and you really get to know kids in a different way and it’s so rewarding to give kids those memories.”
When asked what she will miss most about teaching, Benge’s response was ‘watching kids grow up.’ With being a specialist, she often starts working with children when they are at an elementary age, and she has loved seeing who they turn into as they grow up.
“I want to be there until the end for them and with them and I won’t get to do that anymore.”
Although she will miss teaching and watching her students grow up, Benge is also excited for the next step in her life- retirement. They are expecting a grandchild soon from their oldest daughter and are looking forward to more family time.
“I feel so lucky that I got to spend the bulk of my career in a community where administration and other teachers and coaches and parents, right on down the line, I never felt that what I was trying to do was not valued or not important. I always felt valued.”