St. Paul’s teacher Richmond Scharf: ‘You have to really like kids’

NEW ULM – Richmond Scharf is what one could term an especially “child-friendly” teacher – the kind who plays soccer at recess, comes up with fun challenges to motivate the class, can secretly chuckle at a prank, and, as result, has quite a following among the younger students.

His advice to young teachers is rather telling.

“If you are getting into teaching, you have to really like kids,” says Scharf.

“You have to enjoy them, even when they are ‘naughty.’ If you do, teaching would be enjoyable for you. Even when they are ‘naughty,’ kids are cute and lovable!

“I appreciate that they can forgive so easily. You know, we often talk about a ‘child-like’ faith. Kids are great example for me, in that respect…”

Scharf, a third-grade teacher, is retiring at the end of the school year, after 36 years at St. Paul’s Lutheran School.

He grew up on the family dairy farm near Brownsville, Wis., one of five children. In 1967, he followed his sister’s example, enrolling at what is now Martin Luther College.

After two and a half years at the college, he joined the U.S. Army, and was stationed in Turkey for 18 months. Following his service, he returned to MLC, where he met his future wife.

He ended up finished his education at Oshkosh University, Oshkosh, Wis., and taught two years of public school in New Mexico.

Deciding he would like to teach in a Lutheran school, he eventually returned to MLC for his certification, which he received in 1978.

Scharf then accepted a position at St. Paul’s. He taught five years of eighth grade, five years of third grade, 20 years of fifth and sixth grade, and the balance of the time back in grade three.

In addition to his elementary education degree, Scharf earned a master’s degree in library media at what is now Minnesota State University, Mankato, in 1984.

During his career, he served as co-librarian and librarian, coached soccer and basketball, helped coach track and softball, and was the adviser responsible for the school’s spelling and geography bees.

While every student age he taught has its own appeal, Scharf notes he has especially enjoyed teaching grades five and six.

“They still like school – but they are also independent and self-sufficient,” he says.

Scharf lists his father, sister and eight-grade teacher Dale Markgraf (who would become his principal at St. Paul’s) as the people who influenced his choice to become a teacher.

He also specifically notes the professional influence of two MLC professors, Dr. Cindy Whaley and Dr. David Wendler, in shaping his views of education.

Dr. Whaley taught him it’s not always about the end result – it is often the learning process, the work done to get to the final result – that matters most, notes Scharf.

Dr. Wendler, in turn, taught him that learning should be fun.

“Of course children need to learn – but the process should be as enjoyable as possible,” says Scharf.

Scharf says he loves “teaching God’s word” to young children – enjoying their natural curiosity and “practical questions.”

Academic contests – the spelling and geography bees – make up some of the high points in his career, adds Scharf.

His eye appear to mist as he recalls the excitement, the charged-up, competitive atmosphere of the contests – not just among the finalists but also among the entire student body; the students getting all fired up about learning…

The low points, in contrast, have to do with students not achieving, not progressing to a degree that he considered them capable of, says Scharf. “It can be frustrating, especially when you know they can do better…”

Scharf strongly credits his wife, a fellow teacher in another school, with helping him get through the lows.

“She has been very supportive, helped me prepare, or grade papers, get through the lows,” says Scharf.

He will miss working with “the talented staff” at school – “the whole commotion of the school environment”- “so many faces.”

In retirement, he plans to volunteer at the school – painting, or helping with whatever projects need done – keeping alive the connection that has meant so much in his life.

An avid runner, he also plans to keep up his athletic pursuits.

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