'Ginger' Schneider retires after 33 years
From her childhood days "playing school" at a blackboard in her playroom, Virginia "Ginger" Schneider has wanted to be a teacher. She will retire from teaching physical education and health for 33 years with the end of the school year next week.
Schneider began her teaching career in 1976 after graduating from Hamline University in St. Paul. She earned a master's degree from St. Mary's College in Winona in 1992 in a program that brought the program's faculty to Hudson to teach teachers at their schools.
Schneider said she didn't become a PE teacher because she was athletic but because of a PE teacher she had in junior high school. "That was back before girls sports even existed at a lot of schools. I was in GAA (Girls Athletic Association) but we only had access to the gym at 5 a.m. and had to be out so the boys could have it the rest of the day. But it wasn't about the sports and competition for me. I liked being active and trying all kinds of different things, and that's kind of where we are at today."
Schneider said she wants her students to experience all types of sports and activities, "things they can participate in lifelong." She points to the middle school curriculum that includes things like inline skating and cross country skiing along with more traditional sports as evidence of the move toward movement.
"It isn't about how good you are at something but about participating and trying your best. Students who really try can make good grades even if they aren't as good at a sport as another student. Parents don't always understand that. They think because their child is an athlete that they will automatically get an A. But I base it on how hard they try while they are in my class. If they don't work hard here, they won't get the grade."
Schneider said disciplining students is just part of the job for teachers and she says it takes more time and effort than she wishes it would.
"But it is part of teaching and necessary to accomplish what we need to in class. Discipline problems take time away from the majority of kids in the middle who do what they are supposed to. It's hard on them and me when we lose time we could be spending on the activity."
Schneider says not all students are athletes but they can develop into active people. "I like to walk but not run. I tell the kids to find something they like to do and start to make it a regular part of their daily routine if they can. I read that in 20 years, not exercising will seem as unhealthy as smoking and that it will just be taken for granted that it (exercise) will be a part of daily life. But for now, I have to kind of push the idea, sometimes being part coach and part teacher."
As a health teacher, Schneider has seen lots of changes over the past 30 years. There is more information about more health issues than ever before but they still have to be dealt with at a level middle school students can understand and accept.
"The problem in middle school is that there is such a wide range of experience at this age. Some kids don't want to hear anything and others think they already know it all. But regardless, it is information they need to have for now and the future."
Schneider says parents play an important role in reinforcing the health issues she deals with, especially when it comes to sex and drugs. "Kids tend to think they are invincible. I kind of think my role here is to get them thinking about things. Parents need to tap into that and reinforce what they believe is right for their family and their child."
Schneider says she has seen both positive and negative changes from the influx of technology into the lives of students. "I think the Internet and the access to information for students and the chance for more person-to-person communication around the world can be a good thing. On the negative side, that contact isn't always healthy and is out of the reach of parents and teachers sometimes. That and too much ipod and video gaming tend to isolate kids. They need that face-to-face, personal communication."
Schneider also observes that middle school students are at kind of a crossroads - not elementary-age anymore but not quite ready for the independence of high school. "They need to learn for themselves the consequences of their actions. We call them 'helicopter parents,' who kind of swoop in and rescue their kids or make excuses for them. It can be hard but it's best to let them make the best decision they can and learn from that decision."
Schneider says she is ending her career on the same note she began it -- with a positive outlook. She has no immediate plans for retirement but is looking forward to what develops. As she leaves teaching, she offered some advice to students, parents and new teachers starting out.
"For students, it is so important to go out and give it your best shot, no matter what it is. A lot of things happen in life that we can't foresee but it is always important to do the best job you can," said Schneider.
She tells parents to be supportive but to remember their role in their children's lives. "Be there for them but as parents not as their friend. They have friends. They need you to be Mom and Dad."
For teachers at the beginning of their careers, "Hang in there. Time goes by faster than you can imagine. And remember, if you like teaching - great. And if it doesn't feel right, try something else. The important thing is to keep your expectations high. I've never backed down from that in 33 years."
Her husband is also an educator in Lakeville, Minn., and the family, which includes two adult daughters, lives in Inver Grove Heights, Minn.