Burns: 'We picked Delano for the schools'

Posted on: Jun 13, 2019

In the beginning, Lori Burns was simply looking for the best educational opportunity for her young children. 

By the end, she had helped provide a positive start for hundreds of others as a kindergarten teacher in the district of her choosing.

“I wouldn’t have picked another place for my kids to go, and it’s amazing that I got to work here in the same situation,” Burns said as the final days of the 2018-19 school year came to a close and retirement beckoned. “I just loved it here, and I got to be a part of it.”

Burns had graduated from high school in Marshall, then from college at Bemidji State, and had taught for a few years while living in Tennessee before starting her own family with her husband. When their oldest son approached school age, the couple decided to return to Minnesota.

“We could have lived anywhere, and we picked Delano for the schools,” said Burns. “We had friends who lived here. We were looking at different areas to live, but they just kept telling us about Delano. I thought, ‘That’s such a small town.’ But we came in and did a visit of the school and just kind of fell in love with it. It was warm and it felt like home.”

That positive first impression only deepened once Burns began a gradual return to the workplace as a substitute teacher in Delano and elsewhere. She noticed that Delano teachers were far above the norm in terms of preparing lessons for substitutes. 

“I subbed in other districts, and there were none like Delano,” she said. “I came to the point where I didn’t want to go anywhere else for a regular position. Even if I just subbed here the rest of my life, this is where I wanted to be.”

It didn’t come to that. A half-time kindergarten Title I position opened a short while later, and after a year in that capacity Burns moved into a kindergarten classroom of her own. 

‘Like mothering’
For two decades, from 1999 to 2019, Burns dedicated herself to her Delano students. What did she enjoy so much about the kindergarten level?

“At their age, they’re so fresh,” said Burns. “They’re excited to be here, excited to learn. They just soak up and absorb so much, and it’s fun to see how much they grow over the course of a year. Most of them love school. They love their friends and they love their teacher and they like to hug. It’s almost like mothering. I guess that’s how I would say that I am as a teacher. I feel like they’re my own kids. That means discipline as much as it means every hurt and scratch and tear is recognized.”

Over the years an increasing number of students came in with preschool experience, half days became full days, and curriculum changes and more rigorous standards were implemented. Still, Burns felt that simple play time remained a vital part of learning for young students. Through it they developed social skills, creativity and imagination, and learned to navigate the give-and-take of daily life in the classroom with their peers.

“I wanted to give them time to explore, and they learn so much about math and reading by using different materials and activities and music,” said Burns. “If you make it fun they are fully engaged and they don’t realize how much they’re taking in.”

Her fellow teachers said Burns modeled adaptability and dedication through 20 years of change.

“She has modeled resilience and determination to face any challenge and make the best learning environment for her students,” said kindergarten teacher Meredith Huikko. “Her classroom was a place of warmth and belonging.”

Richele Scanlon, another kindergarten teacher, agreed.

“Lori is an amazing teacher who inspires her students to be the best they can be,” Scanlon said. “She has made a positive impact on the lives that she has touched both in and out of the classroom. As a teacher, Lori always goes above and beyond, and provides her students with the best education possible. She has been a wonderful mentor to me, but most of all, a great friend! Lori is a true inspiration to us all and will be greatly missed!”

Burns said a consistent highlight during her career was the opportunity to witness the moment when students truly grasped a new concept or skill. Another ongoing highlight was the ability to look back and see how students who could not name all the letters at the beginning of a school year were writing short sentences at the end of it.

“They make a huge amount of progress,” said Burns. “You see how far they’ve come. I love just seeing them succeed and feel good about themselves. Some are struggling and their whole demeanor changes when they get that confidence.”

Overall, Burns said she had no regrets and was grateful to Delano Public Schools for allowing her to be a member of the staff.

“I don’t look back with any negative thoughts at all. The whole experience was a highlight, just being here. I got to teach the grade I love in a building I love,” she said. “I’m just thankful to have had this opportunity.”

Retirement plans
Burns will be traveling to Israel this month before settling in to a new stage of life where she can make her own schedule. She may do some substitute work in the future, and intends to explore service opportunities. Caring for her aging parents and managing her own health will also occupy her time. 

“I don’t plan on sitting around,” Burns said. “I don’t know what it is yet, but I know there will be something that will come up that I’ll latch on to.”

While there is an element of uncertainty about what the future holds, her co-workers said one thing is for certain.

“She will be missed,” said Huikko. “And we wish her the best in the adventures that lie ahead.”

Post Categories: Elementary School