Summer of Thanks #29 – Students That Keep in Touch

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When my teaching career began I was completely unprepared for the sense of loss that occurs when your students leave to continue their life journey.  Starting with my student teaching year at HSEJH (HSE Class of 2002 which I already thanked) to my wonderful students from last year’s class it has never left me.  I have shed my man card more than once on the last day of school and in the hour after school that I normally sit by myself and wipe tears from my face.   I have written before about my lack of love for the beginning of the year; but to recap, the new kids who occupy the desks in August are trespassing on the desks that I have loved from the previous year.  I know it is not logical, but there is nexus of feelings where my loss intersects with a touch of irritation that squatters have taken up residence in the house of my beloved neighbors.

As tough as letting my students go at the end of year, one of the greatest joys in teaching is when students come back or contact you.  I cherish every note (I have saved every one).  Look forward to the chance to visit and have shed a tear to two with an “out-of-the-blue” email.  Social media has been a blessing in this regard and it is fun to watch folks that I remember their 12-year-old self announce the birth of her fourth child, get married, move to an exotic country, or just enjoy a good meal at a mom-and-pop hole-in-the-wall.

So to those of you that have thought of me and dropped me a note…thanks.

Summer of Thanks #28 – Maureen Randall

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Tecumseh - Session 1 - April 2010 (74)Maureen Randall has been like a sister to me for my entire teaching career.  Tony, Maureen, and I all started together at HSEJH 18 years ago.  For a time we worked in the resource room together; an interesting experience for all three of us filled with stories that still bring smiles to us.  In was a blessing from God how we all ended up starting our teaching careers together.  Tony was hired first to teach Social Studies on the HEROES team; I was then hired to teach Social Studies on the Globetrotter Team; the English teacher on the Globetrotter team left for greener pastures; Tony and I conspired to move Tony to the English position on the Globetrotter team if Maureen was hired to take his Social Studies position.  Roger Norris who I have already thanked agreed and the three of us continued our link.

When Fishers Junior High School opened Maureen came over in the caravan and a year later she became the third director of Camp Tecumseh with Tony and I.  She would fill that third co-director spot for over a decade.  She kept her two “boys” in check and in line.  Kids may have starved and been forgotten without her reigning the two of us in during those early years of us having no clue what we were doing some of the time.

On a personal level Maureen has always been someone I could talk to about family, teaching, and life.  She is my other sister (not like I don’t have enough of them already).  She taught both of my girls and I appreciated how she treated them and so many other kids with a motherly love.  She has put up with 15 years of being the only female in the department and has been a voice of reason for the various Central Office edicts that I thought was a waste of time.

So thank you Maureen.

Summer of Thanks #27 – Melanie, Melissa, and Marcy

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Mike, Melissa, Marcy, Melanie - 1984Now my family is a BIT confusing; as I have four natural sisters, two half-brothers, and a half-sister.  To add to the confusion there are also two ex-step-sisters that were part of my life for a while.  One of my half-brothers grew up in my house, but he is 14 years younger than me.  So Joel and I did not do life together; when I left home he was a high-energy 4-year-old with a mess of blond curls on the top of his head.  My other half brother and half sister were not raised in my home and grew up with a father than kept no contact with his other children; so we are related by blood, but not experience or memories.  I also had an older sister that only lived a couple days.

Now that that is cleared up.  I did 16 of my 18 years with my three sisters before I left to join the military.

Melanie and Mike Fassold - Feb 1963My sister Melanie was my closest friend in my early life.  We were only 19 months apart and Mel was my playmate.  I always enjoyed her love of life.  In her youth she lived life like sleep was a delay to the adventures of the day.  I was always a bit jealous of the fact that during our junior high years she was a better athlete than me.  Life has not always been kind to her, but she refuses to complain.  I am always amazed at her artistic talent.

Melissa, Mike, and Jenna - 1987My sister Melissa was five years younger than me.  As a child she was a typical younger sister and we did not have many experiences together.  We became closer when she became an adult.  In fact for many years we talked on Wednesday nights.  I enjoyed her love of life and plans to “become more”.   Way too early she was taken from this world in a tragic accident.  It is a hole that has never been filled in my heart; even after nearly 30 years.

Marcy and Jeff AmesMy baby sister Marcy is one-of-a-kind.  What she lacks in height, she makes up in backbone.  She is a spitfire who loves her family.  We have so much in common, from the shows we watched, to our love of antiques, to our sense of humor.  My girls always giggled at the cuss words that flew our of her mouth when we would be bantering back and forth.  Her family is the only one that has ever lived close to us; so we have visited over holidays.  I loved when her family lived in Ohio, because we would see each other.   Her kids are cousins that my girls have spent time with and are close because of it.

So thank you for being part of my life.

Summer of Thanks #26 – Lyn Jones

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Lyn Jones.jpgLyn Jones is a force of nature.  Her energy and perpetual motor inspires me to get off my butt and do something that matters.  She is the reason that I was hired by Anderson University as an adjunct professor, she is one of the reasons for my beliefs in reading and writing, and she IS the reason that I am writing a book about education.  Lyn inspires because Lyn models what a teacher should be; she teaches writing, so she is a writer; she talks about improving the profession, so she does everything to improve the profession; she wants to expand writing, so starts an organization to bring writing to the masses.  She does all this without taking away from her family or individual growth.

During her time as a teacher in Fishers Junior High it was a foregone conclusion that she would be bound for different pastures.  She needed a bigger stage and platform for her message.  She wants to create readers and writers; a lot.  She also wants to send out into the educational world teachers that have a passion of building readers and writers.  Her stage got bigger when she became a literacy coach in our district; I am still bitter she was not our literacy coach, because I wanted to bask in her energy again. Her stage got even bigger when she took a job at Ball State; now she writes, has her own literacy village, she publishes, and she does it with so little time for herself.  She is a must follow blog and has brought a voice to other parents raising a child with special needs.

She is also the person who has pushed me to write.  I both thank and curse her EVERY TIME I write on my book.  Lyn inspires me to be a better teacher, a better professional, and a better parent.

So thank you my friend.

Summer of Thanks #25 – Brad Jackson

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Book - Brad Jackson telling Stories at Camp TecumsehBrad Jackson was a revelation in my student teaching year.  As the science teacher on the team, I got to see him close up and he was everything that I wanted to be as a teacher: off-beat, engaging, caring, energetic, project-based, and iconic.  In fact, one of my assignments to my student teaching year kids was to prove to me that Mr. Jackson was not an alien.  I based my belief on the fact he talked to birds, understood the intricacies of science, and during a parent meeting with a new family that spoke no English he suddenly burst out in Spanish to talk to them.

Brad is the reason that Camp Tecumseh has remained a viable program.  His energy and unwavering support have helped keep this one-of-kind program alive.  He still comes up to tell stories for our school even though it is a long drive.  Typical Brad; no complaints and no expectation for accolades.  He is least self-serving individual in my adult life.

Brad hates when people call attention to him; too bad.  He has been important in the lives of so many teachers and students.  He is an institution.  Every year he continues to teach is a gain for our district and students.   I have learned a lot from him; the two most important being “if you love your students, you can forgive them” and “tell the people that are important to you how much you appreciate them”.  The first lesson has been centerpiece of my classroom management.  The second one is the impetus of Camp Tecumseh tradition of saying goodbye to seniors, my sometimes long yearbook notes, staying behind to tell performers how proud of am of them, and this Summer of Thanks.

So thank you my friend.



Summer of Thanks #23 – Valerie Ax

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Ax Family at TecumsehThere have been many special families and people in my teaching career; so making my list of 30 was extraordinarily difficult.  Valerie has been a constant in my teaching life; as a tech specialist who actually cared about making tech work for the user, to the parent of four terrific kids (3 of which I taught and all were counselors at Camp Tecumseh), and someone that I could talk to about raising daughters.

At work Valerie always wants to help make whatever problem you are experiencing go away.  She will uncover every stone to make something work; long after when most people would say, “It can’t be done”.  In the early days of yearbook, when creating a digital yearbook was just getting starting, Valerie was my MVP.  She figured out every Photoshop and PageMaker problem that I ran into.  She helped everything from infrastructure, to finding grants, to getting cameras fixed.  I know I burdened her, but she never complained and I probably never conveyed my appreciation to the level her help deserved.

Valerie’s kids were and still are a source of joy for me; from Danny’s plastic car medallion (he is wearing it in the above photo) and public reminder for daring to get ran over by a car when he was my student (potentially causing him to miss my class…a deadly sin); to Sarah building my lion/lamb box that is still used today; to Emily who was responsible for getting Joe Reitz his only school detention; and, finally, to Adrianne who is Valerie’s clone and was part of one of my favorite set of counselors ever (her photo climbing back up the hill to Black Hole during a snow storm is still part of our counselor training).

Box - Out of the Box Repaired


Lastly, I would like to thank Valerie for all the pep talks over the years about raising girls (still a mystery to me).  Her patience and support is a real kindness to me.  Her friendship has been one of my favorite parts of my teaching career.

Summer of Thanks #22 – The BFM

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BFM 2012 CollageThe Boy Friend Mafia was named by one of the founding member’s wife.  What Anna Stumpf, aka “She who should be feared”,  meant by the moniker was that we spent so much time together and we were always working an angle to make our school better.  The BFM is a loose term with kind of murky membership.  For the sake of this thanks I am going to deal with the core membership that goes on the summer trip.

1.  My first thanks goes to Kevin Stumpf.  I always use the descriptor “faithful” when describing Kevin to other people.  He is the person who you can always count on at any level.  Like myself, he entered teaching in a non-traditional manner.  It is through his questionable start to college, his rise up the ranks at Wal-Mart, and return to college that give him a laser focus on what he wants to do; which is to become a great teacher.  Kevin has grown every year as a teacher; he is constantly searching and expanding his knowledge base.  Unlike some teachers who have 1 year of experience 20 times; Kevin has nearly a decade of experience.  I love to listen to him talk about his next step on the path.  On a personal level, Kevin is a source of joy for me; his snarky comments about our sports rivalries and his quick wit make me laugh.

BFM 2013 Collage

2.  My second thanks goes to Dave Broviak.  Dave opened up Fishers Junior High with us so many years ago; back then junior high was just a gig until a high school job opened up;  hummmm…  Dave is a character in his own right; he taught both of my daughters and the girls were better off for it.  Dave is a critical member of the BFM; he brings to it the quirky side of teaching and friendship.  He is role-model to so many kids, because he invests in their lives and opens his own life experiences to his kids.  He is an author who just finished his second book.  His work was part of the inspiration for me to write my own book.  No BFM trip would be complete without Dave; his willingness to go to baseball games with us, even though he is not really a fan, is part of why he is so special.  He can find joy in anything that we visit.  I admire him for that.

BFM 2014 Collage

3.  Pete Girbert has joined us on the last two BFM trips.  He fits the four of us even though most of us distrust anyone who speaks French.  Like the rest of us he loves knowledge so every tour, random Americana stop, and small town is something that Pete enjoys.  While Pete is not in our building full-time, he has been part of our Steak n’ Shake group from the beginning.

4.  Tony Sturgeon is the last traveling BFM member….I will address him later.

Summer of Thanks #21 – My Students

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Book - PicturesI have been blessed in my teaching career with terrific students; starting with my student teaching kids at HSE Junior High and Westfield High School, to my kids during summer school at HSE High School, my Anderson students, and my Fishers Junior High students.  I feel blessed because with very few exceptions they have followed where I tried to lead them; some even figured out my real lessons.

I would like to say that I remember every student that I have taught, but that would be a lie.  There is only so much room in my memory.  The kids that I remember clearly are the ones that invested in class; and it REALLY helps if they became Camp Tecumseh counselors.  Brad Jackson used to tell his Camp Tecumseh seniors that while he may forget their names over the years; it is the traditions of excellence that will make the lasting impact.  My room is filled with reminders of my past students and their contributions to my class.

Book - Stars and Hilton FrisbeeI have told the story of how Jason Hilton’s Frisbee came to be screwed into my wall.  All the open house and senior pictures fill one space and provide stories and bragging about kids from the past.  Each of my Students of the Year has a place for their plaque; they become part of my classroom lexicon.  My students find the picture of Emily Bailey and I she calls me “coach”.  My past students are part of me and some still own a piece of my heart.

Book - Student of the Year Plaques

So to all my past students; thank you for bringing me great joy over the past 18 years.

Summer of Thanks #20 – Laurel Fassold

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Mike, Laurel, Caitlin, Ally - 2002This thanks goes out to the person that has given me the greatest gifts of my life <okay my mom might argue with my declaration>.  Ever since I left home for the military at the age of 18 my life revolved around myself and even when Laurel and I married in 1992 my life did not change that much; until the moment Laurel gave birth to Caitlin.  It was in that moment my world changed.  Never had anyone blessed me more.  A couple years later she blessed me again with Ally.  She provided me with purpose.  After 22 years together we have weathered storms, peaks and valleys.  However, every day she provides me with the stability of a home and family.  This is the foundation of my life.  Thank you.

Summer of Thanks #19 – Fishers Junior High School

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Fishers Junior High SchoolI am biased about my school; the place is special.  What makes FJH special is the heart that beats in the school.  The staff at our school actually likes being there and it shows throughout the building.  You see it in the cleanliness of the building, the meals that are served, the quality of care from the support staff, to the leadership, and in all the opportunities that are given to our kids.  Many of the clubs and programs in our building are sponsored for little to no money; programs suddenly appear out of a passion to help kids.

I mentioned in my thanks to Brian and Crystal that our staff has a blue-collar mentality; it is one of our defining features.  In fact, the building reminds me of the best places I worked in when I was in the military; there is an esprit de corps normally found in high quality military units.  Even though our building has been on the short-end of the stick in infrastructure (my 14-year-old computer was just replaced this summer; however, the 14-year-old monitor is still there) and redistricting; the building does not wallow, it just moves forward.  While we complain to each other, there is that moment when we just accept it as our reality and just go to work.  That hard work is illustrated every time I enter the building on a weekend or at night and I bump into 2 or 3 others in there “getting ahead” on something for class.  We could hold staff meetings (if we did that kind of things) the week before school with all the staff in the building.

The best part of our building is the community that exists; story after story exists where our staff helped someone in need on our staff; quietly and without fanfare.  We also have a culture where stories connect us to each other; normally the stories revolve around some moment of temporary insanity, but none the less it binds us.  It is the same as those familiar family stories that bring out laughter in the retelling.  Of course, at the 7th grade level, Camp Tecumseh binds us closer; I call it the “Harvey” factor.  The staff loves our time together at Camp and we love the time to interact with our students outside the traditional classroom setting; seeing us square dance with students has a certain impact on our school climate.

Years ago a professor from Indiana State University did a climate survey.   He called our climate the most positive he and his staff had analyzed; we weren’t and aren’t perfect, but we genuinely care for each other and our students and that is a lot.  Every once and while there is a vague job offer that comes my way and I never give it much thought because I know that I teach with the finest folks, led by great leaders, and have a wonderful group of kids every year.

So thank you Fishers Junior High!

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