To My Teachers….

With all the unrest in Wisconsin (I won’t even get into it here, about the funding cuts to important services and programs, the bills being pushed through that violate our First Amendment rights, and the way corporations are taking over our food) I have been reading posts about teachers that are bei]]>Are you sick of what teachers make? And videos like this one by Taylor Mali: [youtube]   I started thinking about the teachers that have made a difference in my life. A few stood out right at the top of my thinking. Mr. Louie, my eleventh grade English teacher, well known for being strict, and was thought to be mean. He only had fifteen students sign up for his class from an eleventh grade class of over eight-hundred…and he scared away eight of those after his first-day-lecture. Seven of us still in the class, and my dad – an administrator at my high school – was going to cut the class. I told him at dinner that night, “Dad, please don’t…this might be the only class I learn anything in.” Mr. Louie taught me how to write a thesis paper. I still have some of his handouts that were so valuable all the way through college. He taught, more than any other teacher did, in a way that I could retain the information about developing a thesis question, and providing good research, footnotes, citations, and a bibliography in the correct format. He insisted on perfection. Mr. Ruben Van Kempen.  Oh, some would say, “Huh? Wasn’t he only the drama teacher?” I would shake my head and say “No, he was not ONLY the drama teacher.”  In V.K.’s classes and in his productions, I learned how to be poised in front of an audience. I learned self-confidence, and teamwork. I learned how to work hard and be Perfect and not settle for less than that. I learned how to tap dance (and I can still do the “I Want To Be Happy” routine.) I found my voice in his class. My singing voice, my speaking voice, my inner voice. I learned to trust my creativity. I learned how to be proud of my classmates, and to share their joy and pride in their accomplishments. I learned how to receive compliments and praise. I learned how to receive feedback and criticism, and how to use information to grow from. Mr. Van Kempen was not “only” the drama teacher. He was a teacher of Life. But then I thought about other teachers in my entire school career, not just high school.  Some I just loved dearly and enjoyed their classes, but some I am grateful for specific things: Mr.  Sidney Glass, my middle school algebra teacher. I was behind and instead of moving me to a different class with students a year younger than me, he kept me with my friends and taught me individually. He didn’t have to do that, and I am grateful. Don Helling wasn’t a teacher in the classroom, but he was the coach for the swim class at my middle school. He was my first coach, and the first one to acknowledge my talent in competitive swimming. He begged me to go to the high school where he was head coach of the swim team, and was disappointed when I chose a different school. In elementary school something tragic happened to me, and the next day I broke my arm. My sixth grade teachers all offered something different that enabled me to pass sixth grade: Mrs. Simmons let me do my science exams orally due to my broken arm. She mothered me and pampered me and let me know I was loved. Mr. Elmquist brought me a Christmas gift that year, drove out to my house on Christmas Eve late after I was in bed and delivered a hand-made teddy bear his wife made, that I named Rondi. And Mrs. Wicklund kept me in line, and made sure my work was in. She provided the structure I needed and didn’t treat me any differently than the other kids. At the time, I felt she was “mean” but in retrospect, I probably would have failed sixth grade without her efforts. Mr. Jack Cowger was the music teacher at my elementary school. He taught me to sing and enjoy it. Our school choir sang songs from all different cultures and we were good enough that we were asked to sing in posh places for special events and holidays. I got a taste of Tahitian culture, Irish music, Japanese, Guatemalan, Mexican and Native American culture in his class. I learned the value of diversity and honoring of individuals.  We had a drum ensemble, and among other things, he taught us how to use poi balls, and I performed much like this: [youtube]   Of course my most influential teachers were my parents: Duane and Judy Trefethen. All parents are their children’s first teachers, buy mine were teachers for a living as well. We had summers together where we’d go camping for weeks at a time. I was into my teens before I realized that not every family has vacations off all together. My parents worked hard with Mary Lynn and Jeff Finn to create an alternative school in Seattle that my sister and I were able to attend. It is still in operation, and I know several 20-somethings that went to school there as children. My parents taught me not only academics (one year when the teachers were on strike for six weeks, my mom taught us and the neighbor kids at home, and when we started school we were ahead of our class by half a year) but values and manners and joy. And they listened to me. So when I asked my dad not to cut that English class, because it might be the only class I learn anything in, he didn’t. This post would be too long to go into the ways my daughters teachers have contributed to me as a mother, as well as her education, or my college and postgrad instructors. Or the teachers I’ve had in life that were not academic. But they are there also, with all the other teachers of my school-aged years. And I want you to know, I thank you, for all you have done, bringing me to where I am now. You deserve all the riches of the world, for it is what you bring to your students.

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  1. Jack Cowger. He changed his name to Colin Jackson. And then he disappeared. He was the best music teacher ever! Do you know what happened to him? I was talking to my daughters kindergarten teacher and she knew him too but has no idea where he went.

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