In the post-World War II population explosion, Bloomington Public Schools was forced to initiate split schedules to accommodate swelling enrollments. As a new teacher, Eloise Kelle taught the morning shift at several elementary schools. Then, another teacher and group of students would use her classroom in the afternoon until 5 p.m.
“I’d get to school early and go to the workroom. That’s where we would put our lesson plan books and attendance records unless we shared a big wooden double-sided desk with the p.m. shift teacher,” she said.
“Students had a large accordion folder where their supplies were stored and these were stacked at the end of the shift in the shelves along the walls.” Instead of serving lunch, some schools served a mid-shift snack in the classroom.
Kelle taught mostly fourth grade in a number of elementary schools until her retirement in 1995. She also served as an assistant elementary school principal, which meant teaching full-time and handling administrative duties.
In her early years, elementary teachers supervised their students during recess and at lunch. They also led their class in physical education, art and music activities. The dress code meant female teachers wore dresses or skirts.
“We had freedom to enrich the curriculum,” Kelle said. She sometimes chose a language and country as the year’s focus, like German or Russian, which were languages she’d spoken at home as the daughter of a Ukrainian immigrant.
Having grown up on a North Dakota farm, Kelle brought her love of agriculture and animals to the students she taught. When there were no allergic students, she’d have as many as 20 birds and animals in the classroom.
Kelle helped develop curriculum, served on local and state education committees and led workshops. Her summers were spent taking classes, creating curriculum, teaching college classes and traveling the globe with her husband, Allan. In 1971, she took a year-long leave of absence to teach in Brazil, and again in 1994 to set up English and music programs in Russian schools.
Her work was recognized with awards such as a $6,000 Minnesota Excellence in Education Award, which she donated to education programs in Nigeria and elsewhere. A year after her retirement, Kelle was awarded the City of Bloomington’s Omar Bonderud Human Rights Award for “promoting self-esteem and respect of cultural differences in the classroom and community.”
Since retiring, Kelle and her husband have remained involved with two orphanages in Russia. They have traveled to Russia 20 times to teach English, Bible and music at the orphanages and American English at a university.
Reminiscing, Kelle said she has a “heart full of thanks. The students I’ve worked with have taught me as much, if not more, than what I taught them.”