By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Janet Lear has received plenty of awards and honors during her 17 years of teaching at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
She was named the University Business Teacher of the Year by the Mountain-Plains Business Education Association in 2013, won several BEST Awards from the Nebraska Department of Education for her influence on business and marketing education in the state and earned the title of Nebraska Phi Beta Lambda Adviser of the Year in 2005.
The economics professor was among the first inductees into the Academy for Teacher Education Excellence at UNK in 2009, and the list goes on.
Those recognitions are appreciated, but that’s not why Lear got into teaching.
The emails from UNK graduates thanking her for lessons and one-on-one time with students who drop by her office are the true reward.
“To me, that’s more important than any of the awards,” said Lear, who is retiring from her job with the UNK College of Business and Technology when the academic year ends.
Lear’s humbleness and passion for business education stem from a previous life on a cattle ranch in north-central Nebraska.
That’s where she and her husband, Don, lived for many years – halfway between Bassett and Burwell in the heart of the Sandhills. They operated their own ranch and partnered with her family on another. Lear handled the bookwork for both of them.
She even dabbled in teaching for a year at a rural K-8 school, but that career didn’t begin to take shape until Lear and her husband moved to Kearney in 1996.
They were both looking for new careers after health issues forced Don to give up ranching, so they enrolled at UNK.
After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Lear knew she was ready to pursue teaching full time.
“I actually fell in love with it, and I particularly fell in love with college teaching,” said Lear, who has served as an adjunct faculty member, lecturer, visiting professor, associate professor and professor at UNK. She student taught for a semester in Gibbon and was named the Nebraska State Business Education Association Student Teacher of the Year, an honor that came with a certificate signed by UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen, who was speaker of the state Legislature at that time.
Lear, who earned a doctorate from the University of Nebraska in 2007, calls herself a lifelong learner, and UNK was the perfect place to continue that process.
“I have learned so much about technology I cannot believe it,” she said with a laugh.
The biggest lesson, however, came from the people she interacts with each day.
“I’ve learned that it’s OK for us each to be individuals and what we need to do is appreciate each other for the gifts that we have,” she said.
Lear has taught a variety of business and economics courses over the years, including business communication and introduction to business, and advised many students who went on to become educators themselves.
The best moments, she said, come from the students as they learn new concepts and ideas.
“I will miss when you’re sitting in a class and that lightbulb turns on – and you can see it,” she said.
Lear knows there’s a lot she’ll miss about UNK, but the timing is right to retire.
The 72-year-old plans to travel more with her husband – a drive across eastern Canada and through New England during the fall is a goal – and the weekend camping trips will likely get a little longer.
She also has three children – Bruce, who lives in Kearney; Rick, a colonel in the U.S. Army JAG Corps stationed in Kentucky; and Susan, who recently moved to Atlanta, Georgia – and five grandchildren to visit.