Joan Dauphinee has been through more trying times than most.
She’s a three-time cancer survivor. Five years ago, her 21-year-old stepdaughter, Caitlin, died in a snowmobiling accident.
It’s taken time to heal, but this year – her last at Spring Lake Park High School – she’s started to find her humor again, she said.
“I don’t think a class is fun unless you laugh,” said Dauphinee, 63. “I try to laugh every day – really hard.”
Dauphinee – “Dauph” to her students – retired this year after 41 years of teaching health and physical education at the high school.
She was the district’s Teacher of the Year in 2009.
She will be greatly missed by her colleagues and students.
“You want to know what I’m worried about next year?” junior Zep Elkerton said to Dauphinee in her classroom after school one day. “You not being here.”
Finding her passion for teaching, coaching
Dauphinee didn’t always want to be an educator; her first ambition was chiropractic medicine. But it wasn’t a field for women, she remembers her father, a chiropractor himself, telling her.
That was perhaps the last time she let a man tell her what she could and could not do.
“I put that by the wayside, and, really, I think my passion was always teaching and coaching,” Dauphinee said.
She went to college at Mankato State University – now Minnesota State University, Mankato – where she went from playing half-court to full-court basketball.
On the cusp of Title IX, “I was right in there when things were changing, and I was very into it,” she said.
She was hired in District 16 in 1973, the year after Title IX legislation passed, a victory for gender equality in athletics.
She credits her sister, Jill, a Pan Am flight attendant at the time, for landing her the job in Spring Lake Park. Jill accompanied Dauphinee to her interview, and “I think the superintendent spent more time talking to her than to me, and I got the job,” Dauphinee said, laughing.
She jumped into coaching right away, becoming the head coach for women’s basketball and volleyball.
She started the women’s fastpitch softball team, which she coached for 20 years, and the women’s golf team.
“There were some pretty good battles,” she said, noting that many were uncomfortable with changes brought about by Title IX. Giving equal money and equal space to female athletes ruffled some feathers, but Dauphinee never shied away from conflict.
“I’m very proud that I was involved with the girls sports,” she said.
Dauphinee quit coaching when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. The cancer returned years later, and she had a double mastectomy. More recently, she battled thyroid cancer and won.
The power of education
In 1988, Dauphinee took a break from teaching to caddy on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour.
From there, she returned to school, but as a student. She went back to get her drug counseling degree because “I had athletes in trouble with drugs,” she said.
Traditional drug education, simply going over the consequences and effects of alcohol, marijuana, etc., wasn’t effective, Dauphinee found.
After obtaining her drug counseling degree, she developed the change journal, an assignment where students are asked to give something up – drugs, caffeine, screen-time, etc.
Over the course of her career, one-third of Dauphinee’s students have told her that they use illegal drugs.
“The goal (of the change journal) is to get them to take a look at what they’re doing with chemicals and how chemicals take over their lives.”
A former student who used marijuana has come back two years in a row to tell Dauphinee that he hasn’t done so since the change journal.
“That’s huge, to have a pivotal moment,” Dauphinee said. “That’s what education can do ….”
Dist. 16’s first diversity coordinator
In 1992, Dauphinee became Spring Lake Park’s first diversity coordinator and Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity coordinator.
She worked half-time in the classroom and half-time with teachers going over how to create optimal learning environments for all students.
When Dauphinee was hired, the district was “very white,” she said. “It’s a very nicely diverse school now.”
The challenge is to have teachers reflect the population, Dauphinee said. It’s a challenge statewide, she said.
Dauphinee has always been busy, and she doesn’t intend to idle in retirement.
She has always been a big traveler, but plans to take even more trips now that she won’t have papers to grade.
Correcting papers is one thing about teaching she won’t miss one iota, she said. Teaching 30,000 students over the last 41 years, she estimates she’s graded well over a million assignments.
Dauphinee’s sister, Jill, is taking her to Hawaii to celebrate her retirement, and she hopes to travel Europe using Airbnb, an online marketplace that allows travelers to book unique accommodations – everything from apartments to castles.
Obviously, the health teacher wants to remain healthy. She intends to do a lot of biking to keep her body strong, she said.
She’s toying with the idea of distributing lectures online and coming up with some possibilities for adult education.
“I feel very lucky to have been a part of this community for all these years. I just really had my dream job.”
Olivia Koester is at [email protected]