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Teaching 'is a way of life' for Jerry Tedrow

NLS German teacher Jerry Tedrow has spent nearly 50 years teaching at New London-Spicer Schools. (Tribune photo by Garret Felder)

NEW LONDON -- Every morning before the day's first class, Jerry Tedrow cleans the desks in his classroom with sanitizer. He says he does it because "kids deserve a clean place to sit."

After a near 50-year teaching career at New London-Spicer High School, it's easy to believe that a clean desk is just one of the many gifts Tedrow has bestowed to his countless students.

For Tedrow's fellow teachers, it's hard to comprehend that this German-speaking, theater-loving prankster is a 75-year-old educator still giving back to his community.

"I never would have guessed that he was 75 years old or even in his seventies," said Benjamin Mooberry, an English and theater teacher at NLS High School.

"He claims ... that he doesn't have the kind of energy that he used to have. But I tell you what, I wonder what kind of energy he used to have then."

Tedrow turned 75 years old Jan. 13, and by June, he'll have taught 50 years of class in New London. He first started at NLS on Sept. 1, 1959.

Tedrow has taught the various subjects of American history -- his early area of expertise, German, speech, English and theater. He taught full-time at NLS until 1997. Today, he works part-time by teaching a Level 3 German course.

For more than a dozen years, Tedrow also navigated what had been the unmarked territory of teaching via interactive television. Through televised lessons, he taught German to the classrooms of numerous west central Minnesota school districts. The Minnesota Interactive Television Network awarded him the ITV Teacher of the Year award in 2002.

"He was very good at it, and he became one of the pioneers of the ITV field," said Terry Holmquist, a teaching colleague of Tedrow's for the last 48 years. Holmquist also attended graduate school in Aberdeen, S.D., with Tedrow.

In addition to his long resume, Tedrow's dedication to the profession also impresses his colleagues.

Kristiena Illies, a German teacher at NLS and former student of Tedrow's, said Tedrow treats teaching as "more than just a career. It's a way of life."

She said Tedrow's endless care for the well-being of his students -- seen through acts as simple as desk sanitation -- goes above and beyond the efforts of most teachers.

"He's not just some dusty old figure putting in his time," Holmquist said. "I don't know how you would define the term, but master teacher comes pretty close."

Mooberry, who has become Tedrow's sidekick in keeping the New London theater community alive, said Tedrow is the kind of educator all young teachers hope to find.

"He's the kind of person you look at as a young person starting out in the teaching profession, and you say 'Boy, if there's anybody I would like to pattern my life after, it would be somebody like this,'" Mooberry said.

Tedrow's path was not the one he planned originally. The Austin native began his NLS career after teaching for a year in Pequot Lakes. Tedrow planned to stay in New London-Spicer for only a few years because he hoped to move into a bigger district with more students.

"I didn't think that real people lived in these little towns," Tedrow said. "But I found out differently. Real people live in little towns, same as larger."

Tedrow was close to leaving NLS in 1961 when he was called into the Army Reserve and stationed in Washington. He said he also had the chance to teach four levels of German at Winona High School in 1964, but he turned down the opportunity because he barely knew one level of German at the time.

"Before I knew it, I was (at NLS) 10 years and before I knew that, it was 20 years," Tedrow said. He then met a local woman -- a former German student of his -- married her and decided to stay at NLS. "That was 35 years ago."

Tedrow said he plans to teach during the 2009-10 school year as NLS has asked him to come back.

If he ever does retire, Tedrow said he would keep busy by helping out with the Little Theatre, continuing his woodworking projects at home, and spending more time bow hunting and cycling.

"But I want to work," Tedrow said. " ... If I've been OK at it for all these years, I might as well be OK at it until I get tired from it."