Fort Atkinson teacher retires after 42 years Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Jul. 14, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
pat bries retires
Pat Bries, fifth grade teacher at St. Joseph School in Fort Atkinson, hands out Turkish Delights to some of her students. Bries is retiring after 42 years at the school. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

FORT ATKINSON -- As Pat Bries completed her fourth, and final, decade teaching fifth graders -- bringing the total to more than 600 -- her classroom displayed her career, both the past and the present.

A Smartboard has long replaced the chalkboard, but signs with the cursive alphabet still adorned the classroom.

Bries said the handwriting style is still needed in the real world, “I don’t think it’s on the way out yet.”

Her desk displayed small school pictures of every student she taught since the school started having the photos taken more than 20 years ago, while her current students listened to her read to them from an eBook reader.

The book was Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck, a book she has read to all of her classes toward the end of the school year.

Bries reads it because one of the book’s main characters has a “strong sense of right and wrong” and her soon-to-be-departing fifth graders are “going into middle school now and they realize that life is not all black and white -- there are a lot of shades of gray.”

Despite the school year and a teaching career of 42 years coming to an end, it was just a normal day in Pat Bries’ classroom located at the end of the hallway at St. Joseph School in Fort Atkinson.

Celebration for
Mrs. Pat Bries
Sunday, July 17
• 10 a.m. Mass at
St. Joseph Church,
Fort Atkinson
• Reception following Mass in the parish hall
Fifth grade: a ‘true love’

“She’s a very beautiful person on the inside and on the outside,” said fifth grader Moira Wardrop.

“She’s a wonderful teach-er,” said fifth grader Gregory Fixmer. “Every time someone is struggling, she’ll always try to teach them and help them. No matter what, she’ll always be there to help the kids.”

Although Bries’ first two years at St. Joseph were spent teaching seventh and eighth graders, fifth graders are her “true and complete total love.”

“They’re right on the cusp of being children and being teenagers, so they still have the curiosity of young children,” said Bries. “I love their enthusiasm.”

A highlight every year for Bries was putting on the fifth grade play.

It started as just a puppet show early in her career, but she soon learned, “[The students] liked doing it, but they really wanted to act for themselves.”

Over the years, Bries learned through experience how to put on more elaborate shows with the fifth graders involving sets, costumes, and technology.

Looking back

When asked if her time teaching went by fast, Bries said it had, but “in some ways, it seems like it’s been my whole life and in other ways it seems like it [started] yesterday.”

She added, “The kids are so young that when I talk about things that I know from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, it’s beyond old to them, and it seems like yesterday to me.”

Another perk of teaching for more than 40 years was having second-generation students in her classes.

“It just gives me perspective,” Bries said. “I find myself thinking back to when their parents were in school and looking for those traits that I enjoyed when their parents were here.”

The next chapter

Bries said, to no surprise, she’ll miss the kids the most as she enters retirement.

“There have been times where I am tired of teaching, but I’ve never been tired of teaching fifth graders,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to see how they bloom and how they turn out, but this is the age I find the most fascinating.”

St. Joseph Principal Kari Homb said the school will miss Bries’ “solidarity” she brought every day.

“We use the word ‘treasure’ when we describe Mrs. Bries and it’s true,” said Homb.

In retirement, Bries will help future educators by mentoring new teachers at St. Joseph, as well as tutoring older students.

Her active retirement will also include gardening, basket weaving, and taking time to “experience God’s grace. When you’re busy all day long, it’s easy to put that on the back burner. I’m looking forward to being open to that.”

Celebrating a career

There will be a celebration for Bries on Sunday, July 17.

She will be recognized at Mass at 10 a.m. at St. Joseph Church with a reception to follow in the parish hall.

Some of her past students are expected to speak and share memories at both events.

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