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Dakota Ridge Says Goodbye to Retiring Teachers

Kaylee Walls
“I’m gonna miss the fun of interacting with students,” science teacher Pat Burke said.

Five teachers, mathematics teacher Laurie Lawless, social studies teacher Peter Dunda, science teacher Pat Burke, English teacher Mark Sherman, and Coach Ron Woitalewicz (Woj), are retiring from Dakota Ridge High School this year; together they make up a total of over one hundred years of teaching. The Cord News talked with a few of them.

Q: What are you going to miss about teaching?

Lawless: “I’m going to miss the students…I’m gonna miss the camaraderie of my colleagues and the smiling faces of my students.” 

Dunda: “Lots of teachers say that teaching keeps you young. Y’know, young people have lots of energy and ideas…that enthusiasm, that different viewpoint, can be refreshing.”

Burke: “I’m gonna miss the fun of interacting with students…and just kinda the academic piece to it all.”

Sherman: “Interacting with these human beings (as Sherman gestures around his classroom). You know, getting these moments when you throw something out there, and these kids just blow my mind.”

Q: What are you going to miss least about teaching/what was the most challenging part about teaching?

Lawless: “Planning and grading…The time that I spend working at home…I’m finished.”

Dunda: “Technology. A vast majority of teachers here at Dakota Ridge grew up without cell phones…The hardest part about teaching is making that connection with students and understanding that cell phones and social media are a really big part of students’ lives.”

Burke: “All the hoops and administrative things that you have to hop through that aren’t student-related. Other than that, it (teaching) wasn’t my plan, but it’s been a great career.”

Sherman: “The system. The world has changed so much and the system has not kept up. And I think that’s where a lot of the struggles we see between students and teachers happening is…We’re trapped in a system that was discovered in the 1800s, and here we are in 2024, and it’s still pretty much the same.”

Q: If you could give new teachers a piece of advice, what would it be?

“I’m going to miss the students,” math teacher Laurie Lawless said. (Kaylee Walls)

Lawless: “Keep loving your students (and) trust them as much as you can.”

Dunda: “You need to think of yourself as a professional. When you become a teacher, you are a licensed professional, so you should act like a licensed professional. They should model behavior they want their students to have.”

Burke: “One is to be yourself, to be sure you let the students get to know you, and you interact with them. Because if you try to be this strict individual (when you’re not) it’s not gonna work.”

Sherman: “Be creative. Meet students on their ground. Try to find that bridge in the gap between what the system wants and what they need.”

“When I retire, I’m hoping to do a lot of traveling,” social studies teacher Peter Dunda said.

Q: What are you doing after retirement?

Lawless: “I’m going to play in the garden, I’m going to sleep in, and I plan to be back at Dakota Ridge for subbing.”

Dunda: “When I retire, I’m hoping to do a lot of traveling. I lived in Germany before, and traveled around Europe quite a bit, but I’m hoping to visit some other places.”

Burke: “Hopefully, travel with my wife a little bit and see my daughter more in New York. I’ve been keeping in the back of my mind, stopping by the Arvada police and seeing if they need anyone to work in their lab part-time for forensics. And then I’ll spend some time on the golf course.”

Sherman: “Not sure yet.” 

Q: What is your favorite memory?

Lawless: “My years as a Latin teacher were very memorable. I’m still in great contact with several of the students.”

Dunda: “Just the students that have kinda come through over the years.”

Burke: “I do remember chasing a student, who’s deathly afraid of clowns, in a clown suit on Halloween. That was kinda fun. Just the people I’ve met — whether they’re students or teachers — the interactions, going to the games. Just being a part of the community has really been some of the most fun stuff. Taking students down to South America has been fun, too.”

“The world has changed so much and the system has not kept up,” English teacher Mark Sherman said.

Sherman: “I had all of these really good, ‘creativy’ and nerdy type of kids, and in walks Danna (Palmer), and he was the kind of guy — you looked straight in the chest. And so he came in, and of course all the students in there were like, ‘What the –’ Like, ‘What is he doing in here?’” 

Sherman explained that while Palmer initially joined for a girl, he grew to like creative writing. Something in the class shifted him.

“So, their final was a reflection on the year that they would have to read out loud. Danna, he started reading his, and he was like, ‘I know when I walked in here, the looks you all gave me were judging me. And trust me, I was judging you all too. But something happened, and you accepted me, and suddenly I realized…this is okay…and thank you.’”

Sherman saw Palmer, who is a cop in DC, later in a gas station, and said that Palmer was so excited to see him that he ran up to Sherman and picked him up in a bear hug.

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About the Contributor
Kaylee Walls
Kaylee Walls, Staff Writer
Kaylee Walls is a sophomore and first year writer for The Cord News. She took reporting due to a recommendation from her Honors English teacher and practically fell in love with the art of it all. An overall honest person, she enjoys digging for the truth and bringing it to the light.

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