French teacher Kasak-Saxler retires after fulfilling career


Photo by Paul Hudachek
Kasak-Saxler teaches her students French during the day and is also a favorite of the students. “I learned to really try hard with my French from her. I would consider her as a role model because I admire that she has kept up with French over all these years, and I want to do the same,” said senior Chandler Stormo.

Emily Lodahl

After teaching more than two decades at Stillwater Area High School, French teacher, Mary Ellen Kasak-Saxler, will say goodbye. Her retirement will be official at the end of this school year.

Kasak-Saxler has been teaching for 40 years, with 22 at SAHS. She teaches French III, French IV and Advanced Placement French Language. She has taught other subjects as well. With many years of experience, Kasak-Saxler has been involved in a variety of organizations such as National Honor Society , French Club, St. Croix Education Association and organizing a trip to France with her students.

Right after obtaining her degree, Kasak-Saxler began teaching.

She said, “I started my teaching career while I was earning my Master’s degree at the University of Illinois. Then eventually when we moved to Minnesota I taught for a year at the University of Minnesota when I was considering earning a doctorate, and decided not to pursue that. Then I taught at Blake Middle School in Hopkins. That’s when I looked for a job in the Stillwater area. I was ready to move on to a high school to develop more extensive curriculum at a slightly higher level.”

Five years ago, Kasak-Saxler was named Minnesota French teacher of the year.

“I like Madame because I think she really cares about all her students.”

— Chandler Stormo

“That was former students who nominated me and that was very touching. There were highlights in the professional development activities that I was involved in and it meant a lot to me,” she said.

Kasak-Saxler is a passionate, funny and caring woman.

Senior Chandler Stormo said, “I like Madame because I think she really cares about all her students.  She is always willing to help and you can tell by the way she acts things out for us and makes class fun that she cares.”

She has been exposed to new ways of teaching and memorable experiences.

Kasak-Saxler said, “Six or seven years ago I was a part of a Full Bright teaching exchange and I was able to live in Morocco and go to school and teach with a Moroccan teacher for six weeks. She then came here for six weeks and she came to class with me. It was very memorable for the students. It was emotional year full of discovery and adventure.”

Kasak-Saxler is considered a role model and inspiration by many students.

“I learned to really try hard with my French from her. I would consider her as a role model because I admire that she has kept up with French over all these years, and I want to do the same. When we went to France and I saw her speak with everyone so effortlessly and it made me want to continue French too,” Stormo said.

One of Kasak-Saxler’s biggest commitments was to be an advisor for NHS.

“In terms of activities with students this is probably the biggest and most outstanding commitment to me. I have been an advisor for NHS for about 15 years. I’ve seen it evolve over the years based on what the students wanted to do and the activities they were interested in. It gave me an opportunity to work with a lot of super driven and motivated students so it has been a really positive experience.”

Kasak-Saxler’s husband retired a little over two years ago.

“His retirement made me think of being able to plan our retirement together and that just didn’t seem possible as long as I was working. This will give us the opportunity to collaborate on our retirement and I’m looking forward to that. I feel like I need to take that step and see what’s on the other side of the door,” she said.

Kasak-Saxler says she will miss many things about SAHS, especially the students.

“I can only predict what it will be like after I turn off the computer and the lights what will be the hardest part about leaving. I’ll miss the student energy because I like interacting with kids and I like having a relationship with lots of students. I will miss that daily contact with a language, although I think I’ll manage to keep up with it in other ways. I’ll also miss the colleagues that I’ve worked with, certainly those whom I’ve shared a professional development with. The one thing I won’t miss will be correcting papers,” she said.

Retirement cannot hold Kasak-Saxler down. She will still keep busy on her own terms.

She said, “There will be lots of family activity. I hope to still do some teaching, not sure how exactly. I may do substitute teaching or look at offering a course or teach at one of the universities. Ultimately, I’d like to do some traveling with adults and organize adult trips around history, art or food. I love to sew and knit so it will be nice to have time for that and control my time a little bit.”

With Kasak-Saxler departing from her teaching post, it is apparent the French department could have a different feel next year.

“I think she really lights up the whole department with her enthusiasm and especially her dedication to the French trip,” Stormo said. “It will be much different without this, but I’m sure Madame Parr and the new teacher that fills her place will keep it going.”

Teaching will always have a special place in Kasak-Saxler’s heart. She leaves behind a legacy of experience and years of dedication, but she takes with her many special memories she has developed over the years while teaching.