It’s the holiday season. You teach fifth- and sixth-grade students at the Milford School. Your gift from your class one year was a gerbil.


Conclusion: The kids want a classroom pet and they love their teacher.


Teaching in the old Milford Building, a part of the then Nevada School District, was often considered a mixed bag. And according to retired Nevada teacher of 30 years, Dee Johnson, it was a challenge dealing with the old building, but she loved the atmosphere.


“Milford was a wonderful learning environment,” tells Johnson. “We taught by the book and made good memories.”


Milford, located in Milford Township in Story County, housed five sections of fifth- and sixth-graders. Eight to ten teachers manned the building, and loved it all.


“The entire staff had fun and we loved the kids,” explained Johnson. “We made do with what we had. The school was heated by an old boiler. We had one rotary phone and one copy machine that only made 10 copies at a time.”


The idea of having animals in the classrooms often brought about an escape-and-rescue situation.


“We had a gerbil in our classroom,” said Johnson. “It kept getting away on us and the kids would have to catch it. And often they would find a dead mouse during their rescue mission. The gerbil died, and wouldn’t you know it, they gave me a new one for a Christmas gift.”


Johnson reflected on issues that now are relevant in classrooms and how times have changed. As far as student discipline, things were handled differently in years gone by.


“When we had issues with students, we called it teasing; now it’s called bullying,” she explains. “The kids have changed, and bullying is a serious issue these days. I would tell my student-teachers to respect the students because if you don’t, then you are not being fair to them. I was always fair with my students.”


Johnson told that she appreciated parent support through the ups and downs of everyday educating. “I had a good connection with most of the parents, especially with siblings involved,” she said. “It was always good to get to know the entire family; it was much easier to talk through issues and not be defensive.”


Johnson spoke of the administrators that she worked with in the Milford school. She said that she respected them, and was allowed to do what she wanted to do to teach her charges.


“The kids were all so different,” she said. “I had to change up some of my teaching styles based on my students. There seems to be so much more concern about testing these days. I think that the legislature thinks that the kids come to school with their No. 2 pencils in hand, ready to take tests.”


With Milford being located out in the middle of nowhere, students had to be bused each day. The location and being separated from other classes proved to be a challenge at times, too.


“We had our bomb threats,” said Johnson. “We would have to go back into the school after we had a threat. Kids are losing their childhood, having so many safety factors to deal with.”


Johnson said that one of the concerns she has had in the field of education is that the people making the rules are not educators. “I would like them to come do a teacher’s job for a week,” she said. “Let them make the decisions off the top of their heads like we had to do. We do not need the government running our schools like a business; we need to educate everyone.”


As to private schools for education, Johnson said that both private and public schools have their places. “The private schools are fine if you can afford to go there,” she tells.


Johnson said that she has a soft spot for the special needs children.


“The special needs children need to be understood and given a break,” she said. “It’s good to have so many aides in the classrooms; it helps to prepare children to be good people.”


“Teachers are not in the profession to get rich,” she says. “Collective bargaining really needed to stay. Teachers are happy with a raise or even keeping the level of pay that they are receiving. Most teachers look at the glass as half full.”


Johnson received her teaching degree from the University of Northern Iowa and remains an avid fan. “We don’t have a professional sports team here in Iowa and our entire family supports UNI all the way. “


Currently Johnson is “taking a breath.” She talks about a sustaining faith and looking for the good things and times in life.


“With the current climate in the United States right now, and I don’t mean the weather, we have to look for the good,” she commented. “We need to treat everyone with respect and be positive.”


Five grandchildren keep Johnson and her husband Gene pretty busy. The couple’s three children are all professional people (one medical doctor and two attorneys) and live in the Des Moines area and Kansas City. When not rushing here and there to watch grandchildren, they, of course, support UNI sports. Gene is on the Zearing Fire Department and still farms.


A retired teacher’s advice to everyone is to “get lost in books” and keep those children reading.