Growing up in the home of an educator, Dillon Thooft saw what it meant to work in a profession that had impact on the lives of the next generation.

So, when the 2013 Redwood Valley High School graduate went off to college, he opted to follow in the footsteps of his mom, Michelle, and become an educator as well.

Thooft, who is teaching fourth graders at Reede Gray Elementary School in Redwood Falls this year, earned his degree in elementary education from Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D.

After graduating in May 2017, Thooft got his start as a first-grade teacher in the Windom school district, but when the opportunity arose to make his way back home, Thooft made the decision to return and teach where he had been molded by others.

“Teaching in Windom was a good experience for me. I enjoyed being there,” said Thooft, adding, however, his desire was to come home if that option ever arose. 

Thooft added there were educators from his past who had a significant impact on him as a student, adding he specifically remembers Mrs. (Pam) Johnson as one who made a difference for him.

“When I was younger I struggled with reading,” said Thooft. “When I started meeting with Mrs. Johnson she helped me become one of the top of my class in reading as a fourth grader.”

When Thooft moved into his new classroom at Reede Gray Elementary School, he admitted the feeling was a bit surreal. While the room that has become his classroom was not one he was in frequently, just knowing that he got his start as a student in the same building has not been lost on him as he moves into the role as a teacher.

Thooft said he opted to pursue a degree in elementary education because he enjoys the opportunity to work with younger students, adding they are at an age where most of them still like being in school.

Having worked at the first-grade level and moving into fourth grade has been a bit of a transition for Thooft.

“Fourth graders are much more independent,” he said, adding he also knows part of his role is to help those oldest students at Reede Gray as they transition from one building to the middle school one year from now. “For me this is a fun age.”

During his time in college, Thooft said he had the chance to work in different school settings and with students of various ages, and he added being around the elementary-aged students just seemed most natural for him.

“I really enjoy all of the elementary grades,” said Thooft, adding those grades are ideal for him as an educator.

As a teacher, Thooft said the part of his role he enjoys most is seeing how much students change in the time he has them in class.

“It is cool to see how much they grow and learn in nine months,” said Thooft.

In addition to working with elementary students in the classroom, Thooft is also working with older students as a volunteer for the Redwood Valley cross country team, adding he is also involved as a volunteer for the youth wrestling program and will likely serve in a similar role for track.

The opportunity down the road to be more involved as a coach is something Thooft said is something of interest to him.

Thooft and his wife, Stephanie (Jensen), who is also a Redwood Valley High School graduate, have returned to the place where they grew up, and Thooft said they are enjoying the chance to be back.

Thooft said being at Reede Gray in his first few days was like traveling back in a time machine as he recalled so many fond memories of his years there.

Things are going well for him, he said, adding he is very glad to be back.