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Prairie Elementary teacher Tom Woods set to retire

Woods, whose first group of students has turned 24 years old, retires this year.

Prairie Elementary teacher Tom Woods holds up a student favorite from his pop-up book collection on Friday, May 20, 2022.
Prairie Elementary teacher Tom Woods holds up a student favorite from his pop-up book collection on Friday, May 20, 2022.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — Once upon a time, Prairie Elementary teacher Tom Woods served as the media specialist at Central Elementary School in Worthington, but after the move to Prairie, District 518 shuffled and cut some librarian positions, so Woods started teaching in the classroom.

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And there he has stayed, happily ever after, teaching mainly third-graders, for 16 years.

Woods, whose first group of students has turned 24 years old, retires this year.

Moving from the library to the classroom was a big change for Woods, who went from seeing 1,200 students a week to seeing just 23 or 24 every day and getting to know them well.

“The challenge is, how much are they going to grow? They’re there. They’re yours,” he explained.

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He taught fourth grade for one year, but mainly stuck to third-graders, who are more independent than their younger counterparts, he said. When teaching reading, it’s more about comprehension than about teaching the nuts and bolts of reading itself, and there’s more discussion, too.

“It’s fun getting them in from picture books into chapter books,” Woods said. “But yet, you hate to see kids leave picture books because they're just art in a book.”

Prairie Elementary teacher Tom Woods sits at the desk in his third grade classroom on Friday, May 20, 2022.
Prairie Elementary teacher Tom Woods sits at the desk in his third grade classroom on Friday, May 20, 2022.

He does still read picture books with kids in the classroom, though, and tells kids to keep reading those too.

And then there’s his vast collection of pop-up books, which he shares with his students every day, opening the pages to let them see the carefully-constructed paper sculptures that rise from the book’s covers. The books cover all sorts of topics, from the journeys of Lewis and Clark to "Blood and Goo and Boogers Too," a guide to the circulatory and respiratory systems.

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Third-graders also have exciting learning turning points in math. The second-grade teachers at Prairie send notes from the students to the third-grade teachers, and the big thing students want to learn the following year is multiplication — and they do. They jump into fractions, geometry, and division, too.

Woods graduated from Fosston High School, and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Dakota, followed by his master’s degree at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

He moved to Worthington in 1993.

“Technology has changed a lot,” Woods said. “You put it in the kids’ hands. That’s probably the biggest thing.”

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Computers and computerization brought instant feedback into the classroom, he said and young people can find out how they did on a test or their homework immediately. So can their parents, in some cases.

That’s also caused some challenges, though.

“You have to sometimes pull the technology away,” Woods said, noting that some parents have apologized to him for being unable or unwilling to remove devices from their children at home.

Prairie Elementary teacher Tom Woods reviews a lesson with his students on Friday, May 20, 2022.
Prairie Elementary teacher Tom Woods reviews a lesson with his students on Friday, May 20, 2022.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

Despite the difficulties, Woods called those same technologies “a godsend during the pandemic,” pointing out that teachers couldn’t have done distance learning or hybrid learning during the COVID-19 pandemic without it.

“I’m glad I taught. I’m not glad there was COVID, but I’m glad I taught during it,” he said, because now he can bust some of the persistent myths around the topic.

Now that he’s retiring, he intends to spend more time with his aging parents, travel around the U.S., hunt, bicycle, and read.

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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