Mr. Meisner retiring after 30 years at MAS
By Marta Johnson
Retirement for some can bring mixed emotions about leaving work and having too much free time.
Not for long-time teacher Jess Meisner.
“I’m excited to be retiring,” Meisner said last week. “We’re going to be moving closer to grandkids. We want to be much more a part of their lives on a regular basis.”
An elementary teacher at Minnewaska Area Schools and retiring after this school year, Meisner has been in the district for 30 years, although he didn’t start teaching at Minnewaska or even in Minnesota.
Meisner started his teaching career in Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa, during his time in the Peace Corps right after college. His wife, Wendy Meisner, was interested in working with hearing-impaired children and had been approved to work in a school in Sierra Leone.
Four months after they moved, a teaching position opened up at the school, and Jess was asked to teach. That Christmas break, Jess and Wendy only conversed using sign language to prep Jess for teaching. After two years in West Africa, they were ready to return home, find jobs and start a family.
Not long after returning home, Meisner got a job in McGregor, Minn. In the first of three years, he had fourth-grade. The second year he was transferred to a satellite school teaching fourth, fifth and sixth-grade.
“It gave me some more tools for working with different age groups all at the same time,” Meisner said, “and it also made it clear to me that I enjoyed working in a small community.”
After the three years in McGregor, Meisner came to Minnewaska. His background of working with various ages came in handy when he started as the fourth-grade teacher and the eighth-grade basketball coach. He had never coached before, but learned a lot and had fun coaching basketball for four years. Meisner was then approached to coach JV boys’ and girls’ tennis, which he did for 12 years.
During that time, he had taught two years of fourth-grade, seven years of sixth-grade, moved back to fourth-grade for a few years and finished out his time in the third-grade class.
“One of my favorite things is sharing a larger world with kids who haven’t had as much experience seeing the world.” Meisner commented. His family traveled a lot when his children were younger, and he and Wendy have done some extensive international trips as well. “Bringing those experiences back home and sharing different foods, customs and cultures with the kids is very rewarding,” Meisner added. Having lived in West Africa for two years, Meisner also shares stories, food, and artifacts that they collected with the children.
When asked what he would miss about teaching, the answer came very quickly. “Day to day interactions with the kids, and having the light bulb moment where you’ve been struggling to get a concept across so you change your approach, and all of a sudden, they get it.” He added that his favorite time in teaching is when he can sit down and read a book with his class. There’s a clear sense of what Meisner teaches in his classroom: globes, a world map, a full bookshelf, cursive instructions on the desk and signs all around the classroom made by students that say “Be weird.”
“It’s OK to be a little weird, that’s my motto,” Meisner mentioned.
In retirement, Meisner is interested in exploring other interests, such as theater, music and other cultural events. The possibility of volunteering in school hasn’t been ruled out yet, but he will definitely have a workshop where he can work on woodworking, making furniture or whatever he decides to make. He also would like to return to playing the trombone – he was a music education major before deciding on elementary education –playing tennis, traveling and of course, being with the grandchildren.
“One of the things that made it easy to be here for 30 years is that the community has been so supportive of teachers,” Meisner commented, “We have a great staff and that includes support the staff, custodians, secretaries, everybody. Everybody pulls together to make it be the best place it can be for kids.”
Photo by Marta Johnson