Lessons in Learning - Oldenburg

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By Rachel Mergen

 

Born to a family of teachers, Miriam Oldenburg has found a place to put her passion for education and children to good use the past 38 years. 

Oldenburg, who teaches second grade at the Seneca School District, is the daughter of a teacher and had two grandmothers who taught as well. She is the oldest of six siblings, who admired her as she showed them how to play school from an early age. 

She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in the winter of 1979.  She decided to follow in her family’s footsteps, because she had always enjoyed small children. She considered becoming a nurse, to help people, but realized that the hospital setting just wasn’t the place for her. 

Soon following her graduation, a teaching position became available that led to Oldenburg finding a forever home within the district. Oldenburg suspected to have to substitute for the spring of 1980, but she ended up accepting the position of third and fourth grade teacher at a small Lynxville school on Feb. 4, 1980. The school, which closed in the late 1990s, was attended by Seneca children. The Lynxville school only employed two teachers, plus an aide.

“The [Lynxville] school was a perfect setting for any teacher,” Oldenburg recalled. “I loved it so much there. It was a lovely setting, and the children were able to be outside so much.”

She found happiness at the school quickly, while working hard to gain initial experience in her field. 

 “The children are responsive and so fun. They are so witty,” Oldenburg said. She chose to teach elementary instead of kindergarten or preschool, because she “wanted to teach children with some independence.”

The closure of the Lynxville school was tough. She mentioned, “It was hard leaving behind such a sublime environment for education, but changes happen and we have to move forward.”

In the Seneca School District building, Oldenburg finds herself with a “huge focus on reading.” The afternoons are when students are separated into groups, so more attention can be spent on subjects like science, mathematics and social studies.

Science is of prominent interest to Oldenburg, as she completed a teaching master’s program in science in the summer of 1990. Her love of science can be seen in some of her favorite memories of her earlier teaching years. She remembered taking children on hikes, so the students could “take in the environment.” 

Currently, one of Oldenburg’s most beloved classroom activities is reading a novel to her students. She sits in the corner of the classroom in a comfy rocking chair, as the second graders crowd around her on the floor. The first book she reads to the class each year is “Old Yeller.” Oldenburg said the novel is an instant favorite of the children’s. 

She described the time as, “relaxing, a calming time of the day.” She recognizes both her and the students love it, and she attempts to include it as often as possible. “It encourages the students to read,” she noted.

In the past, some of her favorite activities included painting rockets and launching them, along with kickball tournaments between the grades.

“If [the students] are enjoying it, I am too,” Oldenburg said. “It’s rewarding to see their faces and share my knowledge.”

Oldenburg loves receiving notes and pictures from the students, along with hugs. “They hit you in the heart,” she said.

“If you feel [adoration towards] the kids, the money part isn’t as important as what you are doing for their futures,” she noted.

One of the hardest parts of teaching, in Oldenburg’s eyes, is time constraints. It is a challenge to include, each year, everything she wishes she could. In addition, she finds herself putting in more effort to keep up with ever-changing technology and every new level of expectations. She recognizes that technology has made her job easier though, from using a typewriter and chalkboards to now a computer and smartboard. The growing expectations also force her to take a step back and examine her tactics, thus improving each year. 

Oldenburg prepares herself to “meet all the educational needs of the students, while being aware of their social, emotional and physical needs also.”

“Sometimes what students need then, in the moment, has nothing to do with what is on my lesson plans,” she added. It is important for teachers to be flexible and to adjust to the needs of their students, she believes.

The community has helped support her love for her job. She stated that Seneca is like a family and is always prepared to help the school with parent organizations like the Seneca Foundation.

In the future, Oldenburg plans to stay in her position for a few more years, at least reaching her 40th anniversary in the district. Following her retirement, she hopes to travel more with her husband. She is excited to see her four grown sons age and start their own families, with one getting married later this year. 

“When I retire, I hope [the new teacher] will find the same kind of rewards and joy in their career that I have,” Oldenburg said.

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