After graduating from high school, Laurel Hartfiel went to college. Her goal was to become a social worker, but she soon discovered that career path was not for her. So, she quit college, went back home to Clarkfield and started a job working as a secretary for the principal at the high school.
“That was a fun experience, because I was able to see what goes on in a school behind the scenes,” said Hartfiel.
It was also during that time when Hartfiel discovered what she really wanted to do.
According to Hartfiel, she was working during a winter that was a lot like the one that just finished, adding one particular wintry day it was decided to have school de-spite the weather.
Some of the teachers were having difficulty getting to the school, so they were short teachers. That is when Hartfiel was approached by the principal.
“The principal told me he needed me to take over a classroom,” said Hartfiel.
So, she went to teach high-school English. The teacher for that class was one who made a big impression on Hartfiel.
“She had excellent lesson plans,” said Hartfiel, adding when she started looking them over she remembered learning about the lesson.
So, she started to teach, and stayed in the room until the teacher was finally able to get to school. That, said Hartfiel, is when the fire was lit.
Hartfiel returned to college at Southwest State University in Marshall where she earned her degree in elementary education. Over the years, Hartfiel has also earned a degree in library and media from Mankato State University and a masters degree in education from the Morris campus of the University of Minnesota.
After graduation she started looking for a job and came across a job listing that included an opening in Redwood Falls. So, she applied and was hired to work at the elementary school.
She started her career at Reede Gray Elementary School in 1977 and has spent 41 years as an educator, all in Redwood Falls.
“We had two weeks to pack up, find a house and move to town,” said Hartfiel, adding that was an exciting time in the local school district, as there were 12 or 13 new teachers hired that year.
For Hartfiel, working with younger students just made sense to her.
“I have always liked younger children,” Hartfiel said, adding they tend to be more eager to learn.
Hartfiel’s first role was teaching third graders, and for two years she worked in the school library.
“I liked working in the library, but I found that I really missed the classroom,” she said.
So, she went back to teaching at the fourth-grade level and through the 2017-18 school year that is what she did at Reede Gray.
During this past year at Reede Gray, Hartfiel was able to gain a new educational perspective as the Title 1 teacher, which provided her the opportunity to work with students in a different setting.
“I was able to see the kids on a different level,” she said, adding she worked with a variety of students in Grades 1-4 during this school year.
That, she added has been a great way to end her career.
After 41 years in education, Hartfiel has opted to retire at the end of the current school year.
“I love the art of teaching,” said Hartfiel, adding she enjoyed taking a topic, breaking it apart and finding a way to present it to the students in a way they would understand.
That part of being a teacher is something Hartfiel said she is going to miss. Hartfiel added being around the students each day is also something she will miss, as will working with the other educators in the school district.
“We have an incredible staff here,” Hartfiel said. “You can tell they truly care about the kids.”
Having spent more than four decades at Reede Gray, Hartfiel said she has seen more than one generation of families, adding she really appreciated those times when she had the child of a former student in the classroom. Having an already established relationship with the family made the experience a lot of fun, she added.
One of the most significant changes Hartfiel has seen in education is the move away from memorization of facts to developing a learning mindset in students. Helping students learn how to be flexible and to be thinkers and problem solvers is something Hartfiel said they will need for the jobs they have – some of which have not even been created yet. Changes in technology have really enhanced that part of education, she added.
Hartfiel said in retirement she is looking forward to doing a lot of traveling and spending time with family, especially her grandsons. She also looks forward to spending more time with her friends.
Yes, she added, there is a plan to come back and serve in a substitute teaching role for the local school district.
For a number of years, Hartfiel served as the manager for the Cardinal Store at Reede Gray, adding she really enjoyed that experience of working with the students. For many former students, what they remember most about Hartfiel is that connection to the Cardinal store.
Hartfiel’s experience at Reede Gray as an educator has been a very positive one, but she knows now is the time to move on to what ever comes next.