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Brown leaves his students earlier than planned

Tom Brown has loved all of his 23 years teaching in the Hudson School District. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl

Tom Brown, a long-time fourth-grade teacher in Hudson will be saying good-bye to his students for the final time in a few weeks as a new chapter in his life begins -- retirement.

"I had hoped to make it another two years, but it is time to do something less stressful," said Brown, a River Falls native who moved there when he was in the fifth grade. He graduated from River Falls High School and UW-River Falls and earned his master's degree from there as well. He and his wife Karen still live there and it is where they raised their two daughters, Megan, 30 and Katie, 26.

"I just like working with kids," said Brown. "I like to see the light bulb go off when they understand something. They are fun to be around and are always changing. Sometimes you have to look at things from their perspective. I like to be able to help them out."

Brown began his teaching career in New Richmond at St. Mary's School. It was soon apparent raising a family on what the school offered -- $9,000 a year -- was going to be tough. He put his name in for consideration for a one year maternity leave position in the Hudson district. He didn't get the job but during the interview process he discovered Bill Hickox did his student teaching in Brown's class when he was in fifth grade.

"I didn't get that job but near the beginning of the school year one of Bill's staff members was going to be out due to surgery," said Brown. "I was called and was a longterm sub until March of 1987. That was what got my foot in the door."

Later that year Brown interviewed with Hickox, Toby Geary and Mary Kenne for a fourth-grade teaching position at E.P. Rock Elementary School and he landed the job.

Brown taught at E.P. Rock for ten years, until he was moved to Willow River Elementary School in 1997, still teaching fourth grade.

"I love that age because they are old enough to get some of my jokes," said Brown, chuckling. "And they still want to do well. It is amazing how much they want to please."

Today, Brown feels the students are more knowledgeable about their surrounding world.

"They are the electronic kids," said Brown, who admits, the kids can help him out if runs into a glitch with some of the electronics that are standard in today's classroom.

"Education has changed dramatically in the last five years," said Brown. "With the guided reading program and teaching to bench marks it has more than doubled our work load."

"Sometimes I wonder if teaching to the test is the right thing," said Brown. "The actual program really helps you know the students a lot better but it seems like our individuality as teachers is being lost."

One of the things Brown takes pride in is that he tries to instill in students the fact that they should all care for each other even if they don't necessarily like each other.

"The students know a lot more than we give them credit for," said Brown. "Today, they are much more aware of life's crises." Brown also indicated he has seen an increase in bullying behavior in the last five years.

"I always ask the students who their first teacher was," said Brown. "It is their parents. We work together on the education of their children. Education has to be a two-way street with teachers and parents working together. It is a team effort."

"Everything I have ever done has been for the kids to learn. My philosophy is to work hard and play hard, so on Friday we kick back and I always have an end of the month party," continued Brown. Over the years Brown has made hundreds of Christmas presents for his students including one year, when he made them name plates by routing the student's names in a block of wood."

Along with teaching and loving kids, the other constant in Brown's life has been his love of dogs. For the last twenty years he has been raising and breeding occasional litters of Vizslas, a Hungarian sporting breed, something he hopes to pursue in retirement as well as playing golf and hunting.

"I'm not one to just sit around," said Brown. "I'll need to find something that is a lot less stressful. As I made my decision, it made me stop and think I better do this now, while I can still enjoy life."

One of Brown's highlights is when former students come back to visit.

"I always make time for them," said Brown. "I may not recognize them, since they can change a lot from fourth grade to high school, but I enjoy seeing them."

A June 4th retirement party is planned for Brown in the garden room of Dick's Bar and Grill from 4 to 6 p.m. Brown taught a total of 24 years in the district, one year as a longterm sub and 23 on staff.