In honor of National Teacher Day, I thought I'd recognize a few important figures from my past. Granted, I wasn't a good student. It wasn't due to a shortage of knowledge, ability, or understanding - I lacked effort. Coupled with an above average IQ and you have a dangerous concoction of a kid that never does his homework but aces all the tests. Yeah, I was that student. If I wasn't interested, I didn't try.
But there were a few teachers that challenged me. Their classes were the ones that pushed me to make an effort. These are the teachers who had the greatest impact in my life.
When I was in elementary school, the MSD had a program called Enhanced Learning. It was a class held one day a week for the smartest students in Marysville. Eligibility was determined through IQ testing and at the start of my third grade year, I tested high enough to qualify. Four days a week I would attend my normal class, and one day I would go to EL. This continued through fifth grade. We didn't study the typical elementary subjects. Our topics ranged from the National Parks, to bridge engineering and construction, to Greek mythology, to Rube Goldberg machines. Mrs. Wilson taught that class; she might be the kindest and most gentle of any teacher to stand in front of any of my classes, but that gentleness was tempered by a no-nonsense approach to education that would not accept excuses. She was the first teacher to treat me like a person. Before her, teachers either saw me as a problem kid or as a lovable but precocious nuisance. Enhanced Learning followed Bloom's Taxonomy of Cognitive Levels and everything we studied had to go through that process of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, syntheses, and evaluation. Under Mrs. Wilson's guidance we explored the joys of learning as a desired activity instead of a rigorous necessity of school. She fostered cooperative effort as much as individual achievement. She introduced me to video games (The Oregon Trail) and is the only teacher that ever encouraged me to learn to type. She kept telling me I'd be able write faster on a computer than I ever would by hand. She is probably to blame for my love of literature and my drive to learn new things just for the sake of satiating curiosity. It was in her classroom where I was most successful.
Once I made the transition into middle school, things changed. While the other kids from my enhanced learning class went on to be honor roll students, I struggled with bulling. My nerdier tendencies became more apparent. In Mrs. Wilson's class, my quirkiness was accepted - maybe even encouraged. But in the halls of middle school and junior high, those eccentricities made me an outcast. Gone were the protections and motivations of Mrs. Wilson's classroom. If the rest of my education experience followed the model involved with Enhanced Learning, I would probably have been a much better student.
Once I found myself the target of bullies, I was desperate to find an outlet. I found that in art. Mr. Taylor was the junior high art and journalism teacher. He was also the faculty adviser for the yearbook staff and school paper. He was a large and jolly man who could see the positive aspects of almost anything, including me. There were other teachers in my junior high who invested in me as a student, that truly believed I was capable of excelling if I only applied myself. But Mr. Taylor was the first teacher that ever invested in my talent. He was the first teacher that saw a special talent inside me. When I walked into his classroom, I felt that there was something there that was worth far more than a grade. I put more effort into his art classes than I ever did in any of my other classes.
We drew landscapes and still life, caricatures and cartoons. He made us draw our hands, wadded up pieces of paper, maps, and the dilapidated barn that sat beyond the chain link fence and thorn bushes on the east side of the school. In his class, I drew an anthropomorphic head of lettuce and a stippled zebra. At the end of ninth grade, he kept much of my work from the previous year to enter into an art show over the summer. His request gave me further validation that I was capable of creating something great. That was my last art class. After junior high, my interests shifted more to music and theater and I stopped drawing. Due to a lack of practice, I've lost much of my artistic skill. But I know it's there somewhere thanks to Mr. Taylor. Now my son is turning into a budding artisan and I hope that someone like Mr. Taylor steps into Christian's life.
If you couldn't deduce from the title "Herr," Herr Hansen taught high school German. Or, ahem... Er lehrte Deutsch. His classes were the most fun you would have all day, and you'd sound like an angry drunk while doing it. His class was the one class I never skipped; if I did, I'd miss something epic. It could be stories from his college days in Deutschland, or stories of Herr serving as the official interpreter for the Marysville Polizei, or the day we ate Deutsch Schokolade, or someone's Geburtstag (which was always honored with a Partei as long as someone brought their Lieblings-Kuchen). The best days were the days we played Schlachtschiff or sent emails to our Brieffreund in Deutschland. On sunny days, Herr would shout out "Oh, helle," anytime someone opened the door to our windowless classroom. Herr made learning memorable. Even when an avalanche trapped our charter bus on Stevens Pass while returning from the Christmas Lighting Festival in Leavenworth, we still had outrageous fun. All teachers should approach their work with Herr's exuberance.
Unfortunately, few people take German in high school. Most of my peers chose French or Spanish for their foreign language credits. The only other person that I could use to practice my German speaking was my brother (who delivered the Kuchen on my Geburtstag every year). But even he was out of the habit of sprechen Deutsch. Now days, most of what I remember are simple phrases, insults, vulgarities, and nonsensical gibberish. Hallo, ich heiße Nic. Ich mag Essen. Wo ist die Toilette? Du bist eine lahme Ente oder eine dicke Kuh. Was tut Ihnen weh? Ihr Kopf? Was ist Das? Ihre Hosen sind hässlich. Es tut mir leid. Ich liebe dich. Mein Hund und meine Katze trinken einander Milch.
I don't remember many other students listing Wold as one of their favorite teachers. As the speech, communications, and debate teacher, most kids feared his class. While most of the other students dreaded public speaking, I craved it. Or, at least I did in Wold's class. Mr. Wold taught me that I have a voice, and that I actually have something worth saying. He gave me the liberty to speak on whatever topic I wanted to talk about - as long as it fit the style of speech we were presenting that week. I took Speech/Comm as much as MPHS would allow. After I maxed out those credits, I returned as Mr. Wold's teacher's assistant. Funny, not many other students volunteered to be his TA. He trusted me enough that he gave me permission to forge his signature, which I used to my advantage once senioritis set in. If I wanted to skip a class, I'd write my self a note with Wold's signature. I skipped a lot of classes my senior year but didn't have any absences.* Thank you Mr. Wold.
His name wasn't Mr. K, but that's what we all called him. His signature was even a circle around the letter K. He taught theater, so there was a bit of whimsy in his educational style. He also taught American History, to which he applied the same passion as he demonstrated when directing our after school plays and spring musicals. K embodied the importance of the arts in education. He also rewarded creativity. He poured his heart into every student that walked through his door, whether they enrolled in Drama thinking it would be an easy A, or if they were there because they wanted to act.
As the Drama teacher, his classroom was the biggest in the school: the auditorium. Many of my best memories from high school happened in that auditorium. All night set painting parties, singing, dancing, awkward monologues and auditions, reading the graffiti written under the lip of the stage, fumbling around in the dark behind the curtains before a show, broken props, sword fighting, inappropriate costume changes, practical jokes, improv comedy games, and more laughter than I would ever be able to chronicle here. I left that auditorium wiser and more mature than I was when I entered. Years later, I recognize the fruits of K's labor. On the surface, he was teaching us about projection, enunciation, stage presence, lighting, sound, makeup, and theatricality, but in hindsight I can see that he was teaching us more. He was instilling life lessons that would endure beyond his classes and would last longer than our high school career. Through K, I learned how to be myself by learning to be someone else.
* Despite skipping more classes during the second semester of my senior year, it is also the only semester during my time in school where I got a 4.0 GPA. It might appear that I was a slacker, but I was actually working harder then than I ever had before.