Tinklenberg to retire after three decades of teaching

Pipestone Area Schools sixth grade teacher Todd Tinklenberg is retiring at the end of the school year. Tinklenberg has taught for over 33 years, all of them in Pipe- stone. Photo by Kyle Kuphal

Pipestone Area Schools (PAS) sixth grade teacher Todd Tinklenberg plans to retire at the end of the school year, bringing an end to a teaching career that spanned over 33 years, all of it in Pipestone.

The Woodstock native didn’t always know he wanted to be a teacher. He went to college for a year and a half after graduating from Southwest Christian in Edgerton, but wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so he ended up working in construction with his father, Darrel. In 1985, former PAS Athletic Director Bob Nangle asked if he would coach ninth grade basketball. He took that job and later went on to coach track as well.

At the end of his first year coaching basketball, Nangle told him that he thought his calling was in education.

“He was influential in getting me here, not only in my coaching career,” Tinklenberg said. “He was such a mentor in my coaching career, but he actually is the one who urged me to get into education.”

Tinklenberg returned to college and earned a degree in kindergarten through sixth grade education, graduating from what was then Southwest State in the fall of 1990. He started his teaching career as a long-term substitute for a fifth grade teacher that December. He was then offered a sixth grade job in the spring and that’s what he’s taught ever since. Tinklenberg said a love of sharing knowledge with kids is what kept him with it for over three decades.

“I’m a facilitator,” he said. “It’s my job to let kids discover, push them in the right direction, teach them to ask the questions, teach them to find it themselves, and yes, we do give instruction. We do give the information they need at times, but my focus has always been the kids are very capable of discovering themselves. You just need to push them in the right direction.”

During his career, Tinklenberg has seen administrators, staff and even buildings come and go. Among all the changes he’s seen during his career, he said the biggest is probably technology — from one computer lab in the school where students learned keyboarding and the early days of the internet to one-to-one devices. He said that technology has its pros and cons.

“I tell kids every day in my classroom, ‘You have a thousand times more information at your fingertips than I did when I was a sixth grader in high school because I had to go to the encyclopedia,’” Tinklenberg said. “‘You click and you’ve got resource after resource right at your fingertips.’”

Tinklenberg said technology also allows teachers to convey lessons in ways they couldn’t before. He said those have been the positive points of technology. On the negative side, he said it has made kids dependent upon it and occupies much of their time.

Standardized tests have been another significant change during his career. He said they too have changed the way teaching is done.

“Sometimes we get so narrow minded that we have to teach our standards because the MCA test is testing over the standards,” Tinklenberg said. “We kind of lose the broad picture of things, partly because we have to cover the material to get it done before the test, and there are so many more things that can go with a topic rather than just what they tell us we have to teach.”

Tinklenberg said the demographics of the school district have also changed over the years, which has led to communication challenges, and a need for more English language learner teachers and Spanish speaking staff. Another benefit of technology, he said, is that teachers can use translating apps to communicate with students who speak other languages.

Tinklenberg said he decided to retire after this school year because his wife, Sheri, retired last year from a 38-year teaching career at Russell Tyler Ruthton. He worked one more year to reach age 62 for reasons related to retirement benefits.

He expects he will miss the students the most when his teaching career is behind him.

“As frustrating as it is sometimes, I’ll just miss those times when you’re explaining something to a kid and the light bulb goes on and they got it,” Tinklenberg said.

He said he’ll also miss the notes and kind works from students, like he received during Teacher Appreciation Week, May 6 to 10, thanking him for the work he’s done and the impact it’s had on their lives. Tinklenberg said he set high expectations for his students and is known for having rules and discipline, and sometimes students have told him later that they needed that.

“I think so many times teaching needs to be more than just teaching them a topic, a subject,” he said. “We have to teach them how to manage their time, how to develop a work ethic and earn what they get by hard work, learn how to respect — not only adults — I want them to respect their classmates, their building.”

Tinklenberg said he and his wife plan to stick around the area in their retirement. He said both of their sets of parents live in Pipestone, so they want to be around to help them. They also plan to spend more time with their three children and six grandchildren, do some traveling and volunteer. He might also find some part-time work at the school.

“I’m going to stay busy,” he said. “I just want to have that luxury of being able to visit the kids and the grandkids, instead of just weekends all the time and then trying to get back Sunday night to prepare for Monday morning.”