Gail Veldkamp’s retirement from teaching after 21 years in Flandreau was similar to reading a book with a surprise ending.
Before the middle of March, she never thought she and her students would be working together remotely for the rest of the year, never dreamed she wouldn’t be collaborating with other teachers in person and never expected her dining room table would be her classroom desk.
But when the coronavirus pandemic caused Gov. Kristi Noem to ask schools to close after March 13, Veldkamp never went back to her last classes with sophomores and juniors. At first, she didn’t even realize that school as they knew it wouldn’t be the same for the rest of the year.
“It was so abrupt. That last Friday of classes, I certainly didn’t expect to not see the kids again,” she said. “A couple weeks into it, I realized I would never stand in front of my classroom and teach again.”
Spending time with students to help them each understand the details step-by-step that they needed to be successful was Veldkamp’s skill, said Kristie Fischer, a fellow English teacher.
“Gail always has a very positive interaction with kids. She is really supportive and wants to see kids succeed,” Fischer said. “She always helped kids, particularly in speech class, to feel comfortable in a way a lot of our kids haven’t had experience with.”
For the last quarter of the school year, Veldkamp met online with about 65 students in her speech and junior English classes. For some, that learning style worked for the situation. For others, it did not. “Some of them breezed through everything. Some didn’t do much of anything,” she said.
Connecting with kids through online learning happened so fast.
“We didn’t have time to train the kids. I think it was frustrating for the kids,” she said. “It was intense work from home. It wasn’t what I expected it to be.”
For students who didn’t complete their speeches or junior research papers, there will be a time next fall to change the incomplete into a final passing grade. For her students, that will be with another teacher.
Veldkamp, 63, studied to be a teacher because she always liked school. She grew up in central Iowa, attended Bethel University in St. Paul, graduating in 1979, and taught four years in Marshall, Minn. That’s where she met her Trent-raised husband, Rick Veldkamp, who worked in a bank. The couple married and, in 1986, moved back to the family farm.
In 1999, she started working part-time as a teacher in the Flandreau School District, a job that turned fulltime seven years ago. In the process, the Veldkamps raised children Derek, who lives in Dell Rapids, and Nicole, who lives in St. Paul.
After the unusual end to her teaching career, retirement hasn’t seemed different than any other end of the school year. “So far, I have kept busy. It’s kind of nice because you just slide into a normal summer,” she said.
Veldkamp looks forward to travel, hiking, reading and spending time with her husband during the winter months. Along with working together on the farm, the two hiked Black Elk Peak, formerly Harney Peak, this summer.
Veldkamp likes the one-on-one time, something she treasured during her 25-year career working with students, too.
“I’ll miss collaborating with other teachers, and I’ll miss the students, but I’m ready.”