Longest-serving teacher says goodbye to Metcalf

Terry Ruhsam, who started teaching in 1970 and his spent his entire career at Metcalf Junior High, is retiring at the end of the school year. Photo by John Gessner

Ruhsam began career in 1970

Terry Ruhsam counts two sets of colleagues from  his teaching career at Metcalf Junior High in Burnsville.

There are those he works with today and those he’s outlasted since starting his career as a social studies teacher in 1970.

“Forty-two years at Metcalf on the second floor,” said Ruhsam, whose current room assignment is 204. “I tell people that and they just  kind of roll their eyes. I will say that there’s been a lot of people I worked with here at Metcalf who stayed here their entire careers. It’s kind of like there’s been two families twice.”

Ruhsam, 64, is at the apex of the teacher seniority list in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191. He’s served the longest of the 19 teachers who will retire at the end of this school year.

“I just feel comfortable here,” said Ruhsam, who has taught government, economics and American history to eighth-graders for most of his career. “I feel like I’ve had a really good group of people to work with. Over 42 years I’ve worked for four principals (Ted Melloh, John Bednar, Rudy DeLuca and Kelly Ronn). That’s stability in your life.”

Ruhsam, who graduated from high school in Osceola, Wis., in 1966, came to Metcalf after graduating from Hamline University in St. Paul, where he was on the basketball team.

He was one of about a dozen new teachers hired at Metcalf in 1970, the year District 191 opened Nicollet, its second junior high. Even though Metcalf was only about five years old, the new school lured many teachers away, Ruhsam said.

He coached for many years — sports including cross country, boys ninth-grade basketball and girls track and field — and was Metcalf’s activities director  from the late 1980s through the 1990s.

“We used to run full programs here at each (junior high) school,” Ruhsam said. “We had A and B teams. … It’s all been budget cuts over the years, and we lost numbers, too. Football was one of the first to go.”

With fewer activities, kids have less reason to stick around after school and rally behind Metcalf, whose nickname is the Senators, Ruhsam said.

“Like danceline this year — we had a danceline, but it was hard for them to perform, because we didn’t have any games,” he said.

In the classroom, Ruhsam for years taught a semester of government paired with a semester of economics. In recent years his social studies focus has been American history, the result of revamped state academic standards.

The adoption of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program at Metcalf has added a new twist. Ruhsam is teaching two STEM sections of American history that start with post-Civil War developments in industry, automation, invention, labor and business.

“It fits in better with what they’re doing in the STEM curriculum,” Ruhsam said.

In all his classes over the years Ruhsam has been known for his insistence on teaching current events along with past ones.

Each student, once a quarter, must summarize for the class an international news story, a national story and a business-economics story.

“It’s the start of each class period,” Ruhsam said.

How has Metcalf changed over the years?

There used to be music over the loudspeaker that announced the end of class and continued playing as students passed between classes, said Ruhsam, who remembers the halls being somewhat calmer during those times.

“I do remember at holiday time they had a Christmas tape you wouldn’t dare play anymore,” he said. “Eventually the system broke, and that was the end of it.”

Violence?

“Kids still fight,” Ruhsam said. “They got in fights when Metcalf opened. They used to talk about the fights when I came here: ‘Savage kids vs. the east-side-of-Burnsville kids.’ They had their turf wars.”

Fashion?

Ruhsam referred to his own early-’70s uniform of long hair, sideburns and bell bottoms.

Among students, “Tennis shoes and blue jeans have been one of the big staples the whole time I’ve taught, 40-some years.”

 

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