Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Reunions, we elders and education
"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Williams Butler

November 29, 2012

Teachers do have favorites. One suspects they would not be human if they didn't. The dilemma arises with the manner in which teachers integrate their recognition of student strengths with their own teaching styles rather than broadcasting to the world. Strong teachers learn, in plain words, to keep their impressions to themselves.

This particular pedagogue, being in the midst of his ninth decade, would not say he has thrown caution to the winds, but it is now much easier to express myself to and about individuals who brought something special to the art of studentry (apparently I've coined a word, though I have used it before).

This fall, I participated in a tour of the much-expanded campus facilities of Badger High School with members of the class of 1972 celebrating their 40th reunion.

My daughter was one of the organizers and insisted I attend this couple of hours of sightseeing and social engagement. Which brings me to the subject or several subjects of this writing.

I engaged several former students who helped bring back those halcyon days of boomer youth. Remember Lori Shem who exercised her newly acquired 18-year-old voting privilege by running for county supervisor. Her losing is not what I remember. I recall her spirit. And it seems she still has it.

I engaged three who helped extend my love of teaching during their daily residence in room 207 in 1971 and 1972. And I am going to tell them so as soon as I can write to them or talk with them. Or maybe this essay will turn out to be that vehicle.

Let's start with Nancy Kirchoff Kieraldo. Bright-eyed, mind-nimble, with the ability to hold fast to ideas, she never hesitated to express them. Nancy had that rather rare quality in high school seniors — the ability to engage not only peers but teachers as well. She was one of my classroom barometers.

Today Nancy is a successful educator. Her title is librarian teacher leader, coordinating services for the Madison metropolitan school district's 48 libraries.

One of my most active student journalists was Romana Kempski Gambetta. Mona is today president of Mona Roman Advertising, Scottsdale, Ariz. She was for two years a reporter and feature writer on the student newspaper I advised.

The phrase eager beaver does not quite do justice to the way she approached her assignments. From the beginning it was clear she wanted nothing short of major feature assignments. And she did not always wait for them but sought them out.

Hugh Hefner's Lake Geneva Playboy Club was in its fourth year of operation when Mona got the idea to interview entertainers who came to the club. This was a good idea, though there was adviser-fretting about the mechanics of setting up such interviews. I suggested she pursue some potential feature subjects on the Badger campus. Concerns were shortlived because one day she turned up with a story. It was a surprise. Her story was interesting, competent, and became a hit among her readership. Her subject was entertainer Jerry Van Dyke. Later Mona did an encore with comedian Larry Storch.

Amy Meyerhofer Murphy is a practicing attorney in the Quarles & Brady firm in Milwaukee. She is accomplished, and her exploits have found their way to Badger High's wall of success.

As a student Ann was quiet, attentive and thoroughly engaged with what was going on around her. She seldom volunteered in discussions, but I knew she was always ready. Later in the year, I began to call on her. Her participation was a definite gain for her classmates.

For 15 years we did graduation projects at Badger, which took the place of the traditional commencement speaker. It employed color slides, taped music, and starting in 1968, student written narratives.

After an autumn of writing assignments it was clear who was eligible to write project narrative. But this particular autumn was slipping away. Then one day as I was walking down the main hall, Ann came up to me, and with no preliminaries, said she would like to write for the project. My surprise was as sudden as Ann's confidence was apparent.

That was the key: confidence. In the narrative that flowed from her pen ran the idealistic tenor of her generation. Following are the final lines of the last section of Project '72:

For I am young and freedom rides the wind.

I am alive with hope which knows no bounds.

I can reach for the stars and touch the sun.

Tomorrow we will rule the earth

And build a universe of our dreams.

Isn't It good when hope and confidence win the day? Can you see why teachers really do have favorites?

Johnson is a former Lake Geneva Badger teacher.