As the weather warms up, vacationers begin to trickle in and nature hits full bloom, another summer commences.
But as always, with new beginnings comes the closing of other chapters.
For Barbara Kobs, her teaching career of 42 years – 29 of those spent in the Iola-Scandinavia School District – has come to an end, but the legacy she has left behind is everlasting.
“She was honestly phenomenal,” said Jeannine Harbridge, who worked with a special needs student in Kobs’ classroom. “She’s funny and fun and energetic and encouraging to her students. She found areas they excelled in and helped them develop those areas so they could be successful. She did her best to accommodate children with special needs as well.”
When Kobs, a native of Warroad, Minn., began teaching in Iola, it was an opportunity to have the best of both worlds.
Joining forces with another teacher, the two mothers of infants job shared; for the next five years they continued that arrangement while they raised their families.
“Being able to job share when I first came to Iola-Scandinavia and being able to stay at home part time really gave me the opportunity I needed to raise my sons,” said Kobs. “When they were ready to start school, I was ready for full-time teaching.”
After three years of first grade, Kobs decided she was more comfortable with older students and proceeded to teach either fifth or sixth grade – and sometimes both – for the next 20 years.
“Since the school district was willing to be flexible with me, I was willing to be flexible with them and would be available wherever they needed me each year,” she explained. “In 2010 a position became available in second grade so I offered to take it to finish out my career. I have enjoyed it very much!”
Small-town living isn’t always for everyone. Teaching in a small town can also be difficult, given the fishbowl atmosphere.
Kobs’ experience was ideal, however, and the close-knit atmosphere the catalyst to ensuring she was able to balance work and home life. “While some people who move to a small town feel it is difficult to become part of the community, I have always felt welcomed in Iola and been given support in my personal and professional life.”
Kobs started her career in smaller communities in Minnesota, while continuing her education and getting a masters degree in elementary education and special education from Bemidji State University. Her first job in special education was in Sydney, Australia for two years, followed by positions in Worthington High School and Simley (St. Paul) High School, Minn., for six years.
“By the end of third grade I knew I wanted to be a teacher and my mind never wavered from that goal,” she said, reflecting on initial appeal of teaching. “My teacher, Mrs. Green, was a major influence in that decision. If we think back, we can all remember one or more teachers who made a major positive difference in our lives.”
Meeting her new students each year was always a favorite part of teaching, Kobs noted. She looked forward to the challenges that each child brought to the classroom, helping them set goals then meeting or exceeding those goals by the end of the school year.
There were hard times, too, during her tenure. “It breaks my heart when a child does not make as much progress as expected, for whatever reasons, because I know that I gave my all,” she said.
“Iola-Scandinavia has taken pride in being able to offer small class sizes, but the cuts to education have resulted in the return to larger class sizes,” she added. “This will decrease the amount of time teachers have to meet individual student needs.”
And while the teaching profession has been politicized of late in Wisconsin, Kobs does not dissuade others from putting themselves at the forefront of shaping students for a bright future.
“Teachers, too, are taxpayers and wonderful people who are first in line after parents to guide and instruct children as they learn to dream and set goals,” said Kobs. “Stay positive. Your greatest rewards will come from daily contact with students.
“I have never regretted my career choice and still consider teaching, education to be one of the most honorable professions to be in,” Kobs said.
Kobs, mother to sons Benjamin and William, will be heading northward to celebrate her first few weeks of retirement, helping her parents move and celebrating her 65th birthday. And while she still refers to Warroad as “home,” she knows her sons think of Iola in the same manner; she intends to continue living in Iola and using it as her home base for her retirement “bucket list”; she plans to travel, read, write, collect, and quilt.
“I will stay active with the Norske Needlers Quilt Club here in town and the Red Hot Hatters,” she said.
Much like her teaching career, there’s no doubt that whatever Kobs decides to do she will do with 100 percent gusto.
“She is just really passionate about what she does,” added Harbridge. Diane Opperman, another coworker of Kobs, had the same sentiment. “Whatever Barb does, she does with great passion.”