Riley Swier
Riley Swier
"I was in these desks not too long ago," shared Riley Swier during his second week as the new health and physical education instructor for the Lanesboro School District.

Swier, 24, may be in his first full-time teaching position, but already he has a lot to share to relate with students in his classes. "I try to teach from my personal experiences and lessons I've learned from talking to other people," he said.

It was early in his high school career in Waconia, Minn., that Swier realized he really enjoyed teaching. He taught swimming lessons and always seemed to be teaching his three younger siblings something. Teaching professionally seemed to be a natural jump for him.

He went on to Winona State University where he needed to decide what he should teach. He declared a general elementary education major his freshman year. After the year finished, he figured out he wanted to become a physical education teacher. While getting into the program, he found out he could easily double major in health. The double major is an option physical education teachers normally choose for increased marketability.

"People get into the jobs and stay there," explained Swier. "There isn't much moving around."

To boost his appeal to hiring schools, Swier added an adaptive physical education minor and coaching minor as well.

By the time he was ready to begin his student teaching, Swier had married his wife, Kristine, also an elementary educator, and they had moved to Chehalis, Wash. They both wanted to get out and travel a little bit before settling down with full-time jobs. Also, it was a time for them to see how far away they could move from their families, which both live in the Midwest.

"Being that far was tough. We can handle a three-hour drive better," shared Swier.

The couple moved to Lanesboro after Swier landed the open physical education and health instructor position at Lanesboro, which he said "felt like it was meant to be."

They were familiar with the town as they had visited when they were in college. "We fell in love with the area," Swier stated.

Swier has spent the first few weeks of school getting to know the area, school and students. "The first day felt great," he described. "The students are fantastic and I couldn't ask for more supportive staff to help me as a young teacher and professional."

In other words, he didn't feel like running away after the first day.

Swier is taking on a full class load, teaching K-5 physical education, 7-8 health, a life skills course and a choices and challenges course. Each is a required course in Lanesboro, so Swier will eventually teach every single student that passes through the Lanesboro hallways. Swier is looking forward to being able to have that amount of influence on students in teaching about the importance of being healthy.

"It affects every aspect of your life," explained Swier while drawing up a diagram he uses in the classroom. It is a triangle with three different aspects of health at the points: physical, social and mental/emotional.

"It's not just about eating right, it's making sure you are healthy in stress management and communication," he shared.

Swier feels he will be able to relate to students and have them take the lessons of staying healthy to heart. "It's a responsibility I have as a health teacher and one that I don't take lightly," he pointed out. "It's my responsibility that kids have the knowledge to be able to make healthy choices."

Swier recognizes that most of the issues he discusses, such as alcohol and drugs, won't be easy to get through. "I'm trying to find new ways to engage students and let them develop a passion for their life-long journey in health," he stated, adding that being healthy isn't something that can be accomplished and then forgotten about.

Swier is aware of how health information is constantly changing and expanding and realizes he needs to adapt the students to that change. A part of his health classes focuses on researching current events in health news.

"I show them what is out there and let them make choices on what is true and untrue. I want them to think for themselves," he explained.

Swier also said that he tries to balance the student's engagement with having fun. "I don't like to stand up in front and lecture. If the students aren't engaged, I try to find a different way to present material," he said.

Keeping the kid's attention is important to Swier because he believes, "this is important stuff. They can relate it to their lives."

One way he keeps student's interest is by relating topics to his personal experiences or the experiences of people he knows. He also puts himself in the students' shoes, which he finds easier to do since he has a brother in ninth grade.

"As a student I always asked 'Why do I need to know this?'" Swier recalled. "Now I ask 'Why am I teaching this?' If I can't answer that, I can't expect my students to answer it as well."

Swier also draws experience from his parents' backgrounds. His father is a human resource manager and Swier's family moved around a lot when he was younger. "I have a lot of life experience and lessons I've learned from talking to other people," he said.

He expects a lot from himself and so he also has expectations for the students. Classroom expectations follow the standard school and classroom rules, but Swier also expects his students to take responsibility for themselves and their education.

In the gym, it's "be safe, be a good sport and have fun."

Swier also expects to develop a cooperative relationship with parents through positive communication, "knowing we are both looking out for the best interest of the students," he said.

Swier feels comfortable relating his classroom topics to sports. Students have already taken notice that he is both a Vikings and Nebraska Cornhuskers fan with the large flags and pennants in his classroom.

Now that he and his wife have settled down in Lanesboro, they are getting used to cheering for the state and local sports teams. Currently, Swier is helping out with the cross-country team and officiating B and C squad football. He expects he will be getting more into coaching come spring and next fall.

"We both feel like we've lived here for years," described Swier on Lanesboro and how much he and his wife like it here.

As an outdoorsman, Swier is taking advantage of the opportunities for golfing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and other outdoor sports.

"I'm not good at any of them, but I enjoy being outdoors and staying active," he said. Swier had already started to become involved in the community as well, playing on the old-fashioned Excelsiors baseball team for the Taste of the Trail events this past Saturday.

While he recognizes that it will take a while for him to fully grasp his teaching style, Swier is looking forward to sharing his enthusiasm for health and wellness with Lanesboro students