Westerhaus issues special ’goodbye to education’ letter

Rhonda Westerhaus
Pratt Community College instructor
Rhonda Westerhaus, Pratt, enters retirement and looks back on many sources of inspiration.

A letter from Rhonda Westerhaus:

Without a last day in the classroom, a graduation, or a gathering to mark my retirement, I am using this open letter to express my feelings for, and appreciation of this wonderful community and its college.

In reflecting back over my 28-year tenure at Pratt Community College, I can say that I have been inspired by great people, that I have experienced numerous learning opportunities, and that I have encountered challenging issues, all of which have made my career at PCC a magnificent journey.

Among the many great people at Pratt Community College, one who especially stands out for me is Bob Romine. As a teacher, a mentor, and later colleague, Bob inspired me to look for connections across the social science disciplines. This quest led me to other teachers, principals, superintendents, librarians, authors, illustrators, CEOs, professional organizations, all of whom not only enhanced my understanding of the world outside of Pratt, Kansas, but also helped me to appreciate the uniqueness of our distinct rural culture.

Making connections became a hallmark of my own teaching style.

Over the years at Pratt Community College I have had the opportunity to wear many hats.

My first job at PCC was in the learning lab where I tutored both teenagers and adults who were working toward their GED. A few years later Jim Strafford asked me to become the Education Coordinator. I feel great satisfaction when I encounter former advisees who now teach in our Community. Pursuing a Reading Specialist Certification afforded me more teaching opportunities, and Club International, one of my favorite hats, grew out of my Reading as a Second Language course. Club International outings, fundraising campaigns, internships, and exchanges enriched my life and affirmed my commitment to study abroad.

When Ron Hill and I were asked to teach Orientation, it gave me the chance to use my undergraduate theater experience to motivate students to become better time managers and better test takers.

In 2005 a nearby school superintendent contacted PCC looking for a German teacher. Our then President, “Dr. Woj”, remembered that my Master of Arts was in the teaching of German and asked if I would be willing to take on this assignment. I did so with great pleasure! I commuted daily to Cunningham to teach high school German classes and to help facilitate the exchange between Cunningham High School and a gymnasium in Preetz, Germany. Monette DePew and I were able to arrange for these high school students to also earn PCC Experiential Credits.

When Pratt Community College Social Science Instructor Gregg Wade retired, I added his history classes to my teaching roster. Wearing these many hats led to me having up to eight different preparations some semesters. This variety and the challenges it presented certainly ensured that I was never, ever bored!

As I tell my students, my children, and my grandchildren; challenging issues that we come across, i.e. situations that are averse to our assumptions, beliefs, actions, traditions, do provide invaluable experiences. I have encountered several challenging issues during my career. They surfaced when I was a member of a department, the chair of a committee, a volunteer for an event, etc. In these various situations, I have held on to some traditions, while letting others go, kept my mouth shut for the sake of the team, or spoken up even if it meant personal discomfort.

What I remember from all the issues are, caring colleagues, defined policies and procedures, and the availability of professional negotiators. My faith in the goodness of people did not waiver, and if all else failed, I used my rosary.

For all the issues, opportunities, and people that I have encountered during my 28 years at Pratt Community College I am grateful. I thank my fellow teachers, the support staff, and the PCC Administration. I thank my family without whom I could not have managed. I thank the students. When I think of you all, I smile, I grimace, I stand tall, and sometimes I even throw up my hands.

Dr. Seuss sums it up for me,” Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

May you all remember your time at PCC as I do, with pride, humility, and a smile.