Aspen Elementary’s Tana Rinaldi instills resilience in her students
Kindergarten teacher will retire after nearly four decades in education
Editor’s note: This article is the second in a month-long series on Aspen School District’s retiring teachers. New features will run every Friday in The Aspen Times through the month of June.
Tana Rinaldi always knew she wanted to be a teacher.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I would gather the kids up and I was always really good with kids. I just knew it,” the Aspen Elementary School kindergarten teacher said.
Kids tend to gravitate toward her, she said — whether she’s in the classroom or at a restaurant in Mexico.
“Kids love me! I don’t know what it is,” she said.
After 38 years as a teacher — 35 of them at Aspen School District — Rinaldi is preparing to bid farewell to the classroom when she retires at the end of the school year with plans to travel and spend time on the beach.
She has taught kindergarten as well as first, second and third grade, but she’s partial to the youngest students among them.
“Kindergarten is my favorite. They’re just little and cute and funny,” she said.
Laughter comes easy to Rinaldi when she recounts memorable moments. There was time she gave a piggyback ride to a student on the Rio Grande and hitched a ride with an Aspen Center for Environmental Studies naturalist, the time a kindergartner called an exclamation point a “dalmatian point,” the time a student inadvertently ended up on the laps of an unwitting family on a chairlift during a ski trip to Buttermilk.
Her sense of humor has helped keep things light throughout this year’s pandemic learning, too. When classes were remote, her kindergartners would often walk around their rooms to show off their dinosaurs or wander away from the camera to play with Legos on the floor.
“All I could do was giggle and laugh,” she said. That doesn’t mean teaching came without its challenges this year, though.
They’ve grown up a lot in the last year — and learned a lot, too, amid changing learning environments and quarantine policies, according to Rinaldi.
As her students adapted, so did she, working to keep her students safe while ensuring they had fun, too. Despite the hybrid classroom, she still maintained hallmarks of elementary school tradition like incubating eggs and hatching chickens, the evidence of a successful hatch audible in the background during her interview.
“I am a wizard teacher, because guess what? I made it work,” she said. “And that’s what you do — you don’t get selfish and you just make it work, because you have no choice. ….You just did your best. That’s all you could do. And if sometimes it didn’t work out, you just went back to the drawing board and you kept trying.
She considers herself a facilitator more so than a director at this point in the school year, giving students the tools they need to be “resilient and independent and good thinkers,” she said.
That tenacity is a life lesson she aims to impart on her students every year, and there are plenty to count among the resilient ranks of Rinaldi alumni.
With a tenure in Aspen education as long as hers, Rinaldi has taught the children of students she had in the early years of her career — students like Stefan Reveal, now a senior vice president at Aspen Bank, who was in Rinaldi’s first Aspen Elementary School kindergarten class 35 years ago and whose daughter, now 7 years old, got to have the same kindergarten experience.
“There’s quite a few Aspen kids that were in that first class that are still around and have had their kids in her class,” Reveal said. “It’s a great legacy to be able to effectively do two loops around the generational pathway there. It’s quite amazing. It’s great — what a legacy.”
Rinaldi’s warmth and kindness left a lasting impression on Reveal, he said.
“The fondest memory that I have is just watching my daughter’s face when she found out that Tana was my teacher, and she was confused and amazed all at the same time. How could I have been 5 years old? How could Tana have continued to be a teacher all this time?” Reveal said.
“It was just great to walk into her classroom and know that she was — she had much more experience by then, but she was going to provide the same love and care and motivation for my little girl as she did me.”
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