Why I love Albert Lea

Published 10:30 am Monday, April 29, 2024

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Mary Bissen is the sixth through eighth grade vocal music teacher for Albert Lea Area Schools. She enjoys being outside, cooking, reading good books and spending time with her family and friends. 

I was born and raised in Austin. I attended the Catholic schools for grades K-8, but finished my secondary education at Austin High School and boy, was I the definition of someone who bled red and white. Whether I was at the front of the student section for sporting events, attending meetings for clubs and activities or performing in a music group, I was fully engaged in everything it meant to be an Austin Packer. School spirit was non-negotiable for me.

After earning my music education degree at Luther College, I wanted to find a job close to home. I was set on teaching high school vocal music and only high school vocal music, but the “close to home” option was a sixth through eighth vocal music position in the Albert Lea Area Schools. My initial thoughts were these: How was I supposed to teach middle schoolers when I’d had no experience in that age group and — the even bigger question — how was I supposed to go from being a hearty Austin Packer to an Albert Lea Tiger? That idea was almost as bad as trading in my purple and gold for green and yellow (Go Vikes, even when you break my heart year after year.) But, I wanted to be close to home so I applied for the job, interviewed and was offered the position. I can say, without a doubt, accepting the opportunity is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

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What I love most about Albert Lea is the people. I love working with adolescents and watching them grow into such wonderful young human beings during the course of their education in our schools. I love meeting my students’ families and engaging with them outside of the school setting. I love the individuals I get to call my colleagues and friends.

Working in education has its challenges, and in the course of my career, I would say those challenges aren’t getting any easier. That being said, almost every time the tough parts of my job overwhelm me, something happens to remind me why I chose this profession in this city. That something might be a gift from a student, just to brighten my day. Maybe that something is a hug from a parent that I see out in the community. That something can be a colleague who lets me vent and then move on. Time and time again, the people of Albert Lea come through to show me that I am part of a community that cares.

This has been especially apparent to me in recent months. When I was 16, my dad passed away after a battle with cancer. The outpouring of love my family received from the people of Austin during that time was incredible. Earlier this year, I lost my mom to cancer. My Albert Lea people — colleagues, families and especially students — have shown me the same outpouring of love that I experienced in my hometown both then and now. It has been such a beautiful reminder that we bloom where we are planted, often thanks to the environment and the people that surround us. Austin will always be my first home, but I am proud to call Albert Lea a very close second.