Soderberg reflects on Delano career

Posted on: Jun 16, 2021

The road to Melody Soderberg’s teaching career was neither short nor direct, but after 23 years in Delano she retires with the appreciation of her students, the esteem of her colleagues and the satisfaction that results from meaningful work done well.

What did she most enjoy about teaching seventh- and eighth-grade students?

“What I have loved is that they are on the threshold of being a young adult. And they keep looking back over their shoulder to check and see if they’re doing it right,” Soderberg said. “They’re at such an important age of determining who they are and how they’re going to be – not what they’re going to be, but how they’re going to be. And to be a part of that and to encourage that, there’s nothing better.”

Coming to Delano 
Soderberg went to college immediately after high school, but soon decided it wasn’t for her. At least, not yet.

“I was on the 20-year plan,” she said with a laugh. “I traveled quite a bit, and over the years I just kind of collected credits from various community colleges. I was in the service industry for a long time.”

After becoming a mother, Soderberg decided to explore a latent interest in teaching. 

“I’d always loved language arts. When I initially started college I wanted to be a language arts teacher,” she said. “So I started back at [what is now Minneapolis Community and Technical College] and put in two years there to see if I could get back into school mode.”

Soderberg excelled, and transferred to Augsburg because of its weekend program, which fit her schedule as a single working parent.

“I was a much better adult student than I was when I was younger,” she said, adding that the immediate high school-to-college pathway doesn’t work for everyone, and that there can be benefits to waiting. “Sometimes kids need to figure out who they are, what they stand for, and what gets them excited first. I was really a good student when I realized what my passion was, but you have to figure that out.”

Soderberg did her student teaching in Delano, which led directly to her first teaching job in 1995. 

“When I first started Delano just seemed perfect,” said Soderberg. “I felt like it was a good place to grow. There were lots of opportunities, as far as leadership, and I think that’s still true today. As much as you want to participate, there are opportunities.”

Digging in
It didn’t take long for Soderberg to seize some of the possibilities available to her, both in terms of curriculum and activities. She quickly became a Student Council advisor, and coached track and field for 15 years.

“I have really loved working with the kids in extra-curricular type things,” she said. “It was really fun to see the kids who might have struggled in the classroom just come alive out on the track. And in Student Council I was able to watch the kids finally understand what it takes to put on an event or organize Pennies for Patients – that just doesn’t come out of nowhere. It takes a lot of time and effort and planning, and sometimes disappointment.”

On the academic side, Soderberg said that highlights were helping to develop an advanced program for seventh- and eighth-graders, and participating in the creation of a schedule specific to those two grades as a member of the site base team when Delano Middle School housed grades five through eight.

In the summer months she enjoyed gathering with colleagues to write new curriculum material.

“That’s kind of geeky, but I liked collaborating with people to think about how we could serve the needs of our kids because you’re working with people who have the same passion you do,” Soderberg said.

Praise from peers
In 2000 Soderberg earned her master’s degree. In 2005 she was named the Delano Teacher of the Year, and her peers said Soderberg’s enthusiasm for improvement and innovation never flagged.

“Melody continually looked for new ideas to bring to our language arts team,” said 7-8 language arts teacher Rachel Holmes. “She continually spent time outside of the school day to research and create lessons to use in her classroom.”

Another teacher in the department, Breeze Bestland, observed the same.

“My favorite thing about working with Melody is her willingness to try new things,” Bestland said. “She has been teaching for many years but was always looking for ways to improve her teaching. She realized that the needs of her students are ever-changing each year, and has refused to settle.”

Some of Delano’s newer teachers have also appreciated her guidance in recent years.

“Melody is a wonderful educator and person,” said 7-8 social studies teacher Cody Foster. “I will be forever grateful for the help and mentorship she provided for me. I would not be the same teacher I am today without her.”

Art teacher Tannah Frawley agreed.

“Melody is a thoughtful, reflective, kind colleague and educator,” Frawley said. “She strives to provide an inclusive classroom experience, while exposing our students to new and exciting material they may not have considered before. In my short three years of knowing her, I feel I have learned a lot from Melody. I’m grateful to call her not only a colleague, but also a friend.

Highlights and challenges
In terms of other highlights, Soderberg said she always appreciated notes from parents that recognized her extra efforts with their children.

“Those little things mean a lot,” she said.

Another highlight came when Soderberg took a three-year leave of absence from 2012-15 to teach at an American school in Oman that served the children of embassy staff, oil workers and others.

“When I had decided I would teach abroad I thought, ‘Anywhere but the Middle East.’ Of course that was the amazing job I got,” she said with a laugh. “I thought I would go for it and see what happened. It’s a beautiful country. The people are kind. It’s very peaceful. I loved every second of it.”

As for challenges, she said that continuing education through COVID has been difficult but rewarding in terms of the new skills teachers have developed. Looking ahead, she said it is time to stop talking about learning loss and to recognize that students have ample capacity to recover.

“Every kid in the world is in the same boat, so is it really learning loss? They’re still going to learn,” she said. “Sure, we all lost lots. But what did we do? We survived a pandemic.”

Retirement plans
Soderberg has purchased a home in Duluth, where she will enjoy proximity to her four grandchildren, a favorite bakery and the Superior Hiking Trail. 

“I’m pretty excited about that,” she said. “The grandkids will be 15 minutes away instead of three hours, and I can have balance in my life.”

She’ll also have a new companion, a golden doodle named Polly, and she doesn’t plan on leaving her profession behind entirely.

“I’m retiring from the seventh-grade classroom, but I’m not retiring from teaching,” she said. “My expectation is to get trained in Orton-Gillingham, which is a program to help kids with dyslexia, and go on and tutor kids.”

But first it is time to ponder, and to rest.

“I think for the first year I’ll just kind of sit back and reflect on what this has been all about,” she said. “I need to see who I am without seventh- and eighth-graders, to see where I fit.”

“She will be very missed in our department,” said Holmes. “But I wish her the very best on her new chapter in her life!” 


Post Categories: High School