Sally Jones, a teacher with Pine River-Backus Schools since 1973, says her career was inspired by many special people, including councilors at Bemidji State University (BSU) who told her she related well with students.
“I was working one summer at BSU registering freshmen and one of the councilors that was there said to me, ‘You’re good with these young people. You should think about teaching.’ One of the others had seen me with my nieces and nephews and said, ‘You definitely should go into teaching,’” Jones said.
Though Jones suggests this was the final nudge that drew her into a teaching career, she also said her teachers were always an important part of her life.
“I had teachers who opened doors so that I saw possibilities beyond just what was in my back yard,” she said. “They convinced me that there was a bigger world out there. I was truly blessed to have had many, many good teachers.”
Jones recalls teachers Anne Wisehart, Ruth Dorn and Marge Engebritzen (a teacher of German who was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year) as ones that made a difference in her life. Jones was also surrounded by family and family friends who were teachers. Her Grandma Jones taught school at age 16 in 1889, and she had two aunts, an uncle and several cousins who were teachers. Wisehart was also a neighbor and a friend to her mother.
Jones has only ever taught at Pine River-Backus Schools. In that time she has taught grades three, four, five, six and combinations between five and six and four and five. She currently teaches mathematics to grades five and six. She has the distinction of having taught elementary classes in the old Pine River School building, the new building, the Backus Elementary School building and the Pine River High School building before the schools merged.
“There wasn’t room enough in the elementary so they put the three sixth grades in the high school building. We sort of traveled back and forth while they were building what’s now the cafeteria, the gym and the long hallway that connected the two buildings,” Jones said.
Jones has been with the school for 40 years. In that time she has known many students, faculty and staff. Jones was named Teacher of the Year in 2007.
“The best part of the whole deal is, of course, the kids. Watching kids learn and experience new experiences. When the proverbial light bulb goes on, it’s evident that they finally get it, and that’s why most of us teach,” she said.
Jones retires from her position at the end of this year.
“As I end my career I think of my grandmother who was so bewildered at my having no signal for recitation. I kind of feel like that’s where I’m at now, too. Things have changed so much that I think it’s time for me to move on,” Jones said.
Jones has many fond memories like the student who wrote an essay on shooting “peasants” in North Dakota, or another who wrote about something tasting “sweat,” or about the time she helped Halloween enthusiast Lee Aimers do his makeup and stuff his bra for a costume.
She stresses the importance of people she taught alongside, saying that it isn’t iPads, buildings or other “things” that teach children, but teachers. Jones offered thanks to the “many kind and generous colleagues who shared their wisdom and support over the years.” She issued a special thanks to school staff like paraprofessionals, student aides and many more.
“We have been blessed, truly blessed to have so many dedicated, hard-working people who can step in and do almost any job,” she said. “They amaze me, because they are not paid much. I don’t think they are recognized enough, and they do a remarkable job.”
Jones will likely travel in retirement, starting with a Hawaiian cruise with her cousin. She also has a pile of books to read and is considering taking college courses for fun in her free time.