Ask Ila Robbert when she knew she wanted to be a teacher, and she smiles.
“I remember that from the time I was in third grade on, I wanted to be a teacher, and I’m not sure why,” she says. “I know I loved that teacher a lot. I don’t know what it was, what clicked. I just knew it was what I wanted to do.”
On Sunday, May 20, Robbert’s teaching career at First Lutheran School in West Bloomfield will be celebrated.
She is retiring after 33 years of teaching – all 33 of those years at the same school.
The retirement party will begin at approximately 11:30 a.m. and will include a lunch. Former students are invited.
Robbert grew up in a small town in Minnesota, halfway between La Crosse and Rochester.
The Lutheran school that she attended through eighth grade had all eight grades in one room.
She remembers there being one teacher her first year and eventually two teachers.
After she graduated from high school, Robbert headed to Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn.
“Looking back, my dad had been injured in World War II. We had a small farm. No one from my family had gone to college. I never thought about it – the sacrifice – until I was older,” she said.
Shortly before Robbert was to graduate from college, the placement process began.
She explained that as a future teacher, she could say what grade level she wanted to teach, in what part of the country and whether she preferred a rural area to a city.
“They called it a placement,” Robbert said. “It was very nice. It made getting a job really easy.”
She wanted to teach lower elementary grades in a rural area and did not choose a particular area of the country.
“One of my roommates was actually from Weyauwega,” Robbert said. “That has nothing to do with it, except that I thought I was getting the wrong call.”
She soon realized that the call for a placement at Christ Lutheran School was actually for her.
“So, that’s how I got here in 1968, and I loved it. Christ Lutheran has been just super. The people have been so gracious and supportive through all the years. It really couldn’t have been a better place,” she said.
Robbert wanted to teach multi ages.
“I went to a multi-grade school. I did my student teaching at a multi grade. I didn’t know anything else. I don’t know how they do that,” she said of those who teach one grade.
She has taught everything from kindergarten to fifth grade.
This school year, she is teaching first through fourth grades.
Some time after her placement at the school, she met her future husband, Laverne, who was a member of the church.
It turned out that he was in the same high school graduating class as the college roommate, who was from Weyauwega.
The Robberts were married in 1971 and have four children: sons Aron, Mark and Micah and daughter Sarah. They have seven grandchildren, three of whom she taught.
After the birth of the couple’s second child, Robbert was a stay-at-home mother. Eventually, she returned to the school as a part-time aide before being hired again as a full-time teacher.
Her drive to school was a short one.
She and Laverne live on the Robbert family farm, which is about two miles from the school.
They are both retiring on May 31, with Robbert’s last day of teaching on Friday, May 25.
It has been exciting for her to hear from former students and learn what they are doing today.
“Some have become teachers,” Robbert said. “They are in all different walks of life.”
She said she worked with great people.
“It’s been a real joy to work with everybody. I think I have taught under seven different principals,” said Robbert, who has served as the school’s principal for about the last 10 years.
What she especially liked about teaching multi grades was the way it felt like a family.
“They help each other out. The older ones look forward to being the older ones,” she said.
When Robbert started teaching there in 1968, there were 31 students in the school.
This year, there are 32 students, including the nine in her class.
“When I started, I didn’t know a mother who worked away from home,” Robbert said. “Now, there are mothers who fly for work during the week.”
As a teacher, she enjoys sharing her faith with her students and seeing her students get excited when they do something on their own.
It was in January 2011 that she announced this would be her final school year.
“My hope was they would probably find someone who was currently teaching who would want to move to a smaller, rural community,” Robbert said. “The person who will be taking my place is currently teaching English as a Second Language in Taiwan. She is from Wisconsin.”
With just days of teaching remaining, Robbert has been labeling keys for the building and answering numerous questions, including, “How do you turn off the scoreboard?”
In retirement, she looks forward to doing activities with her grandchildren at the schools they attend, visiting family in Minnesota and Nebraska and volunteering.
She and Laverne are also planning a trip for next fall.
Her hope for the school in which she spent her entire teaching career is that it flourishes.
As for herself, Robbert says, “I will leave it up to the Lord. I’ve had a nice trip so far. Everything is really good. Every day is an interesting day.”