“I don’t love history. I like it, but I don’t love it,” said social studies teacher Matt Ridenour. “The best parts of the job are, and it’s so cliché but it is so true, these wonderfully dynamic relationships we get to have with students.”
After teaching for eight years at Minnehaha, Ridenour decided to take a new route in life and teach at the University of Wisconsin Superior. He completed his doctorate program in social studies education this fall from Hamline University, so he now has all the proper qualifications to teach at the university level.
Before working in Colorado as a white-water rafting guide, Ridenour was planning on attending law school, but once he was assigned to training-in new employees he found his passion for teaching. Ridenour also enjoyed the outdoors and activities he led, but the teaching and training was what excited him the most.
He and his wife landed at Minnehaha Academy shortly after moving to Minnesota and were thrilled with the community, mission and students of the school.
Relationships are the most important aspect of the job, said Ridenour. Alumni and current students feel the care and energy radiating from him at all times.
“I remember when two of my AP students during their senior year received full ride scholarships to different universities and I was jumping up and down on my couch, crying. I was so excited for them like ‘They did it! Whoo!’ And I was alone in my house until my wife came down the stairs,” Ridenour said laughing.
For his final time speaking in chapel, Ridenour asked senior Ingrid Snook to play her own music along with his message.
“I thought it was really special because he asked me to play my own stuff, and that was very important to me,” said Snook. “He’s been really supportive of me through the years with my music, in class and especially with me following my dreams [of going to Nashville for music].”
In the midst of teaching, he went back to school to get a doctorate degree and spent every spare moment working on writing his dissertation. The timing was right since his children were still young enough that they would not remember his absence as vividly since they go to sleep earlier and have other activities going on.
“Matt is really ambitious,” said social studies teacher David Hoffner. “He always wants to be doing more stuff, better stuff. He’s always looking for new opportunities.”
However, with all the fond memories of Minnehaha, Ridenour will be moving to Duluth in the fall to be a social studies education professor at UW-Superior. Initially when he applied for the job, he did not anticipate an interview, let alone an eventual offer. He was simply looking to practice applying for jobs. But, upon receiving a call back and after a process of interviews and on campus teaching, Ridenour was offered a tenure track position, which only about 20 percent of university jobs offer. What this entails is that after five years, if the university is pleased with his work, he can stay for as long as he chooses.
“The offer I got was a rare one. It just doesn’t happen very often,” said Ridenour. Initially, he was not going to take the job because of his connections to Minnehaha and love for teaching high school students. But with the help of his wife and other faculty members at Minnehaha, he decided to accept the offer and take a new road in his life.
“There is a passage in scripture in Philippians 4:8 where Paul says essentially ‘whatever is good, whatever is noble, whatever is beautiful, whatever is right,’ just do those things. And I’ve really been trying to live life … where I say ‘yes’ to things,” said Ridenour. However, this differs from impulsivity in that he says yes to opportunities, not in answer to every question.
The final months leading up to the final day have been hardest for Ridenour. The bonds he has created with students and colleagues have grown strong over the years.
“I have already spent at least two chunks of time at the back table just weeping, just puddles of tears on the table. Because, one, I’m going to miss specific people, and in general the concept of interacting with students,” said Ridenour.
The history content will not be difficult to leave behind, because his passion is teaching, not history. “He is born to educate and be an educator,” said Hoffner. “He’s a teacher’s teacher… not just a teacher.”