DL native completes fourth decade of teaching

Photo by Robert Williams
Linda Beilke has taught and contributed in many different ways during her 24 years in the Frazee-Vergas school district and left a lasting impression on her elementary art students.

By Robert Williams


Elementary art instructor Linda Beilke is retiring this May after 40 years in education and nearly a quarter century of it spent sharing art with Frazee and Vergas kids.  ¶  After graduating with two degrees from Moorhead State University, the Detroit Lakes native moved to Dallas, Texas to begin her teaching career as a junior high and high school art teacher. She also worked as a director of a gymnastics center.  ¶  She relocated back to Minnesota to teach at Anoka Hennepin during the middle of the school year as a long-term substitute where she taught both high school and elementary students. She also worked at an art publishing company, was a gallery director and educational director and worked with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  ¶  “That just kind of snowballed for a while and I loved it; then I had my kids and they were in elementary,” Beilke said. “That’s when I went back into teaching elementary.”  ¶  Linda and her husband moved to the Frazee-Vergas area 24 years ago with their two children.

Photo by Robert Williams
Linda Beilke has been instructing students for 40 years of a career that began in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex.

The move was for family reasons, as both Linda and her husband Terry are from the region.

“I always wanted my kids to grow up with their cousins and grandparents,” Beilke said.

Art was always going to be a part of Linda’s life from an early age. Teaching came a little later after a positive experience in college.

“I had thought about it but it wasn’t in my plans,” she said.

By the end of her junior year of college, Beilke was set on becoming an artist, but she noticed fellow friends in the same realm struggling to find jobs, so she decided to take an education class.

“I absolutely loved it,” she said.

That caused her to add a second major, a Bachelor of Science in Art Education to her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

Beilke had some experience already in a teaching field by coaching swimming and gymnastics, but her practicum experience at Ben Franklin Middle School in Fargo was a perfect fit.

“At the end, it just cemented the idea,” she said.

A love of art stems from her childhood and relatives in the field, including her grandmother, an aunt and father who were all artists.

“Every Christmas, they would give me art supplies and lessons,” Beilke said.

An aunt and uncle on the other side of her family are also artistic.

“I was always interested in it; I always painted, I always drew,” she said.

Beilke attended Detroit Lakes High School and was influenced by longtime art instructors and very recognizable names to the community Chuck Merry, Dave Easland and Joann Knapp.

“Chuck taught us about cubism and surrealism and I just loved those ideas and I still teach them,” said Beilke.

Linda’s own education and four decades of teaching have given her a precise understanding of the impact art can have on kids, especially at an early age.

“Art is working on different areas of the brain; it’s building creativity, it’s building problem solving and it is helping them show their individuality and it builds confidence in them,” she said.

That confidence allows children to build esteem by creatively finding their own answer instead of every kid chasing the same answer, such as in mathematics.

“It’s not divergent, where you’re trying to work toward one answer,” she said. “The idea is you have a reference point and guidelines. The more unique you can make it the better it is, so it gives kids the freedom to choose and be creative. In the end, their project shouldn’t look like anybody else’s unless it’s intended to be a directed drawing, which we do in some of the younger grades to learn the skills and techniques.”

Over time, schedule changes were some of the biggest impacts to art classes. When Beilke began saw students once every two weeks, whereas now, she sees students once every three days.

Classes were typically an hour to 90-minutes long when she began teaching, to contemporary schedules of 25-45 minute classes.

As is typical of small districts, Beilke has also been one of those versatile teachers who has filled many different roles in the district over the years, including teaching English as a second language, driver’s education—classroom and behind the wheel. She oversaw the targeted services program for a dozen years and was the lead author on title grants for several years.

Elementary art consists of seven different classes and grade levels per day.

“It’s a busy day,” she said.

The experience for kids range from building skills, techniques and confidence at a young age and each grade up builds on the year before. Her instruction has been adjusted to marry state and national standards and Beilke’s 40 years of self-created curriculum. By sixth grade, the standards are at the middle school levels and the work includes one-point perspective, surrealism, and more relevance with art history.

Beilke’s teaching stresses the principles of design by infusing those principles into her lessons.

“Those types of things build as you’re moving up,” she said.

Kids also get a healthy dose of variety that consists of abstract art, cartooning, graphic art and others so that a student that might not have a big interest in one project, the next one will be completely different.

Beilke is the key leader in the annual Spring Fine Arts Show, where students in all grades get to showcase their work. 

“What a wonderful outlet for the kids who maybe aren’t in sports, or maybe art is their thing—to be able to show others this is what I can do,” Beilke said. “It has grown tremendously.”

Beilke told a story about how the art show was held only in the commons when she began her work in Frazee and moved to the smaller gyms and now it takes up the entire main gymnasium, the stage and the stairways between the two.

“The kids work really hard because they want to get their art into the art show,” she said.

Beilke goes through each students’ work to decide what goes into the show, looking for their best work – up to more than 1,000 pieces from just elementary students.

“I’m very proud of the art show,” she said. “I hope it continues in some form.”

Helping kids be creative and watching them bloom from tots to teens has given Beilke a quick response to what is best about teaching art to children. 

“The excitement that I see in the kids when they learn how to do something that they didn’t think they could do or they get acknowledgement from their peers—that ‘Wow! That’s really great or I like what you did there,’” she said. 

Personal plans for after teaching include showcasing her own art at shows, relaxing on the lakes and some traveling.