Surprise retirement party for Burlington teacher

Stephanie Tolman

The last week of school is always jam packed with activities, but the Burlington first and fourth graders squeezed in a special retirement get-together and goodbye for Mrs. Julie Michaels.
Even though she was only a week removed from a hip replacement surgery, she agreed to meet her friends, Mrs. Brandi Dearcorn and Mrs. Stephanie Smith, at one of the local parks. Little did she realize a celebration awaited her, though the rumor is, a young one might have let the secret slip to her.
The kids were able to share with her some of the ways she blessed their lives. Quotes like “You were fun and always did fun things,” “You helped us plant flowers for Mother’s Day,” “You helped us to learn new things,” “You were always happy,” and “Thank you for putting your knowledge into our brains,” were a common theme.
The School District honored Mrs. Michaels for her 36 years of service but her desire to teach started long before that. “I wanted to be a teacher as early as I can remember,” said Michaels. “My father passed away when I was 2 and when I was 3 we moved to be closer to my paternal grandparents.
“I was in the Lutheran church and I can remember running Sunday School lessons for the little kids. I would help them sit down, get colors out and help pick up. I attended a four-room parochial school and was always in trouble for reading what the older kids read and doing math with them. I wanted to help out always!”
A move to Wyoming marked her official entry into the field of education. Michaels had been an executive secretary but didn’t find any jobs available in her field. She served as the town clerk when her youngest child, Teri Dawn, was 2 or 3, but heard about a position opening at the school for a paraprofessional. “I started out in a classroom, but mainly made ditto copies and was the playground duty person. That was the first year. Then came year two and I was in the library that year and loved it, but I still was not a reader. Year three was split between Mr. and Mrs. Miller and going to Yellowstone. I was kind of a computer, tech person and it was easy for me to put grades in and that became my job for those two. That was about the time I realized that I was doing everything a ‘real’ teacher does, except getting paid.”
“With a kid in junior high and two in elementary, I started my night’s and summer’s journey to become a ‘full teacher.’ I was granted a sabbatical to use Burlington to do my student teaching. I was then fortunate enough to be hired using the Reading First Grant which puts an emphasis on reading and small class sizes and the journey continued.”
She has covered most areas and subjects in her years at the school including, the library, Title 1 para, reading specialist, which she loved the most, and computers. She taught kindergarten reading, math and ERI, as a first grade teacher twice, second grade reading and math, fourth grade reading, math and social studies with an emphasis in reading acquisition and practice and fifth grade math. She has also spent a lot of time coaching junior high girls basketball and track, high school girls volleyball, basketball and track and high schooli boys track. She’s coached softball and Little League baseball and has spent many fall nights in the gym refereeing high school volleyball.
“My biggest takeaways were ‘Love Always!” Those little and big ones know and can see right inside of you. You have to be genuine. I am NOT your friend. I love you anyway and I have expectations and will see you follow through with those. Everyone can try and everyone can learn and I will help you get there. I am just the police officer, not the magistrate that made those rules. Telling is not tattling! If someone is in danger or putting others in danger, you must do what is right. Tattling is wrong and you will be in trouble for doing so. Think before you speak and ALWAYS smile!”
She plans on spending more time with family and friends and as a big traveler, has three summer excursions already on the books. Her sights are set on her trip of a lifetime in February of 2025 to Antarctica, which will be the last continent that she still needs to set foot on. “There are lots of other places on my list: most of the East Coast, Alaska, Petra, Angkor Wat, South Africa, the Galapagos, Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, Jerusalem, St. Petersburg, New Zealand’s South Island and many, many more. I plan to finish many projects that have been waiting for eons and learn more about the mountain I plan to live on and share everything I can!”
Joining Michaels in retiring this year from Burlington Schools, is Rick Wheeler, MS/HS AG, Shop and CTE teacher, celebrating 26 years of service and Terrin Christiansen, District Food Services Director and Head Cook, celebrating 12 years of service.