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English teacher closes book on career

Bemidji High School language arts teacher Diane Sharpe will retire this summer after 30 years with Bemidji Schools. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

There is no disguising an English teacher's passion for the language arts.

For three decades Bemidji High School English teacher Diane Sharpe has shared her sense of humor and passion for teaching with students. This summer, the "Queen of Apostrophes" will retire.

Sharpe finds herself spellbound over words like "eclectic" and "plethora," loves a good conversation and thinks correcting apostrophe errors in papers is an enjoyable task.

"Retiring will be bittersweet for me," she said. "This job is a huge part of who I am as a person."

When Sharpe, originally from Sabeka, Minn., started teaching in Bemidji 30 years ago, her goal was to become a teacher like her father, who was also an English teacher. Teaching English runs in her family. Her daughter is also an English teacher.

"I always felt kids liked my dad," Sharpe said. "I wanted to be as good of a teacher and to be as well liked as him."

She feels she has achieved her goal and said she appreciates having been able to develop good relationships with many students over the years.

The key to getting students to relate to teachers, according to Sharpe, is to have a good sense of humor or, as she described herself, have a "weird sense of humor."

"Sometimes it was the naughtiest kids I liked the best," Sharpe said. "I was able to appreciate everybody for who they were. Not to say some kids didn't irritate me, but they keep you on your toes. They make you feel old and keep you young at the same time."

Sharpe said she would teach longer if the paperwork load wasn't so much.

"I love the teaching part of the job," she said. "Teachers are part entertainers because you have to compete with television, iPods, cell phones and video games. That's the part I love. I'm retiring because I've graded enough papers."

Over the years, Sharpe said, technology has affected how she has taught and how students have learned material. Although she has appreciated that students now have excellent word processing skills and a greater ability to research information, technology is still a concern to Sharpe.

One of her concerns is plagiarism. Sharpe said she hopes in the next five years the school district will be able to fund a reliable system to prevent plagiarism in homework assignments.

Sharpe said she tries to emphasize to students the importance of a face-to-face conversation.

"I'm old fashioned," she said. "I don't think anything will beat face-to-face verbal communication. I think I will be amazed in the next five years of what will be acceptable in schools as far as technology. We want people to communicate, but we don't want them to forget how to have a conversation."

But with all the new technology, Sharpe said she rarely receives a paper with a small letter "i" in it.

"I always thought with all the texting, students would start using the shorthand language, but I haven't seen that," she said. "That's a relief to me."

In recent years, Sharpe said she has found increased challenges with keeping up with local and state standards, specifically through the No Child Left Behind Act.

"I do see value in testing because we need those benchmarks, but at what point are parents responsible?" she asked. "We cannot be all things, to all children all the time. I think parents need to assume more responsibility for that."

Having taught for 30 years, Sharpe said she will miss not having an audience every day the most. She will also miss walking down hallways and being greeted by colleagues, many of whom she said are her friends.

"I always say I want to find a job where I can sit at home in my pajamas and work at the computer and correct people's apostrophe errors," she said.

Although she doesn't exactly know how she will feel about retiring until September, Sharpe said she has few things she knows she wants to do.

Not surprisingly, Sharpe said she wants to read more. She enjoys reading authors Barbara Kingsolver, Patricia Cornwell and William Kent Krueger, to name a few.

"I love books," Sharpe said. "I try to stay current. There's nothing I enjoy more than recommending books."

Sharpe said she intends to spend more time with her grandchildren, travel, keep a clean house and volunteer her time. But more than anything, Sharpe said she wants to stay actively involved in the community.

"Diane Sharpe will be greatly missed by the staff and students at (BHS)," said Brian Stefanich, BHS principal. "She has high standards for her students and expects all students to give their best. (She) has a terrific sense of humor and I will miss her contagious smile and charm."