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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, August 06, 2006

To the Class of '86

After 26 years as a Christian high school teacher/administrator, I can honestly say that “school memories” are one of the greatest rewards of my ministry and career.

A few weeks ago the WRBA Class of ’86 met in Waterloo, Iowa, for their 20th Year Reunion. I wish I could have been there. (I would have reminded you of the time Steve D. and Jeff E. made a video tape of two GI Joes break dancing to Chukka Khan. This would have been the same year they did the Martin Short, “Ed Grimmly” routine and the year Jeff E. looked so studly in a Miami Vice, Don Johnson, white outfit at Jr. Sr. Banquet.)

I just finished reading the brief “bios.” It was a great read. They’re all over the place—form California (Hi, Kevin) to Washington DC (Hi, Becky); and from up in Alaska (Hi, Julie. Say “Hi” “to Dean.) to Texas (HI, Sue and Jeff). And some of the lucky ones (and I mean that) are still right there in the beautiful heartland of Iowa. This post is to Class of ‘86 specifically (but also to all former students in general). Everyone else is, of course, welcome to read.

Julie K. sent me your bios. As I read what each of you wrote, I could hear your voices. I hope you can hear mine now. I’m just going to “talk” and see where this goes. That rarely happened in my classroom [ha ha], so I know you’ll indulge me. Just picture me up at that yellow metal lectern on wheels smiling toward you.

The problem with that picture is that from my view, you guys are still the kids in your senior pictures. You’re forever frozen at that age in my mind. (Even though I’ve seen some of you now and then through the years, collectively as the Class of ’86, you’re frozen in time.) I took out the 1986 WRBA yearbook when I got this email and came across a picture of a mustached man wearing glasses with frames the size of two Tupperware lids. Who is that guy? My name was under his picture. I guess it’s me. What were we thinking in the “80’s”? Some of you may be looking at my picture now (with a beard) thinking “What are you thinking now, Mr. K?” Actually, I’ve had this beard since 1994, the year I directed Fiddler on the Roof.

Did you notice what I did just then? I confirmed the time of an event in my mind by remembering what play we did that year. I catch myself doing that all the time. My WRBA memories are mentally stored like books on a library shelf in chronological order from left to right. For instance, you guys were freshmen when we first came to WRBA for the 82-83 school year. That winter we did You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (which was also the play we did our last year in Waterloo, 2000. Julie directed it.). You were sophomores when we did You Can’t Take it With You; Juniors for Cheaper by the Dozen; and seniors when we did Our Town in the main auditorium.

Our Town stands out for two reasons: one, it was the only play I ever performed in as the director' and two, it included some remarkable performances from your class, including some great first-time performances by Becky O. and Staci S (and wasn't Lynn W. in the wedding scene?). I also liked our use of the song, “One More Hour.” It still tugs at my heartstrings. (We also used "Title Song." Both can be heard here.) I’ve enjoyed all the plays we did those 18 years in Iowa and learned tons from directing each of them, but Our Town has probably had the most lasting effect on my thinking about life and love. You’ll see elements of it in this post from last spring (Lemonjellos) and this more serious post from when Julie had her open-heart surgery (the Ache of Joy).

The difference between being a high school teacher for two decades and a high school student for four years is obvious—you students move on. You graduate and continue in the stream of life. The teacher stays there and does the same wonderful thing with the next batch of lives God brings along. It’s kind of like working at the locks on the Mississippi River (or the Sioux Locks here in Michigan’s U.P.). The lock masters know the water there well. They know and recognize the ships (or barges). They walk along side and shout from shore to deck and get to know each other. They do their best to ensure safe “passage,” and then the ship (the class) moves on. It is the nature of the ship and the river itself to move on. The lock master’s role is limited to a specific time of entrance, passage, and departure.

Looking back on 26 years of working with high schoolers would feel a little like tending a lock if it weren’t for something that goes much deeper: the human dynamic; the relationship; the fact that lives make indelible marks on each other. What else can explain that after twenty years since “passing through the locks” both parties, (teacher and class) still treasure the experience, still recall the countless conversations and interactions and get together for reunions?

Is it because the shared “passage” was perfect? Oh, my no. I was a green teacher when we met—with only three years of classroom experience. You were the first class I had for all four years of high-school (from freshman to senior year). I was young. Think of it this way….You are now at least twelve years older than I was when I became your teacher. When you think of it like that, it seems like there should be a law that says school teachers must be 40 or older to enter a classroom; they must live life as an adult for at least twenty years before trying to “apply life’s lessons” to a piece of literature.

I’m less concerned about what I said about literature, or speaking, or writing... than what I said about life in general. Case in point: I don’t think Brent A. will mind my sharing this. Do you remember the time in a class discussion that I said that a certain famous pastor of a certain California “cathedral” made of glass “seemed more like a wizard than a pastor to me.” Brent, you were right to correct me for that un-called-for comment, and you did so kindly. To paraphrase Pig Pen’s best line, “Sort of makes [me] want to treat [you] with a little respect, huh?” (You were a great Pig Pen.) That’s just one small example. I can only imagine how many other misguided remarks I may have said in class and how many times a more mature teacher could have prevented pointless exchanges.

You’re all old enough now to realize what a delicate (and wonderful) interchange of words we call “the classroom.” As you recall those years in my classroom or on stage with me, I trust there are more fond memories than bad, more winks than winces. It’s true for me. When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that God enables teachers and students to learn from each other and to bond as teacher-to-student friends in real time. And I think we did that back then. I hope that after twenty years the fond memories have crystallized into something we can now hold up to the light and say, “Wasn’t that beautiful.”


Anonymous Jim T. said...

Hello "Mr. K.",
My how time has flown. My perspective from that seemingly distant era is probably better remembered by Julie. Memories of a corner classroom, planting seeds in styrofoam cups in hope that they would grow (mine drown), facing the wall and steadily counting 60 seconds hoping that we stayed in time with the clock in "Mrs. K's" classroom, and learning to read great big books like "Dick and Jane". Lunch was still in what became the 5th and 6th grade rooms below the church nursery and Miss Hileman's room. Or was it??? A little fuzzy. Walking by the school office to go out to the playground and looking down into the gym from the windows in the hallway by the church office Our class (class of 94 and 2nd grade at the time) "hated" the 3rd graders for who knows why. Epic soccer battles ensued every day at recess. Looking back, I think that they were bigger, older, and we were discovering who we were... Probably a typical form of angst at that age. One of my most fond memories of that era was Mr. K gettin' down with his harmonica. I seem to remember a couple of times that you broke it out. Speaking of "The Fiddler on the Roof", how is Reb. Tevia (sp?) doing these days. On one hand...

Anyway, I really enjoy reading your musings, as they remind me that I am a "sentimental old (young) fool".

17/8/06 4:50 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Jim, good to hear from you. I forgot about the lunch room being in that part of the basement. I'll be sure to have Mrs. K. read this. Fiddler was awesome! You were a great Laser Wolf. "I'm not talking about a cow! I'm talking about your daughter!" and "This should have been my wedding!" Tell your folks "Hi."
(As for being a sentimental fool... "Pleasant thoughts of the past make present thoughts that last." I just made that up, but what I mean is treasuring memories reminds us that our present days will someday be smiled on by our kids.... Sentimental nostalgia is useful when it enhances the present. Now I'm rambling like a 50-year-old. =)
Thanks for reading and sharing...

18/8/06 8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another perspective from the class of '94...

I am proud of the education I was given at WRBA. Meeting kids from public schools in college made me realize just how lucky I was to have attended school there. I think the years that I was a student there were some of the best in the school's history. We had great teachers and smart students (especially my class! =) ) I had an obvious advantage over many of my fellow classmates during my first couple of years at UNI. However, I also appreciate that, more than just trying to educate me, my teachers at WRBA cared about me. I know that I had teachers who prayed for me by name. I had teachers who wanted to help me learn how to honor God, build strong relationships, and make wise choices. I wish I had understood a little better at the time how valuable that was, but unfortunately hindsight is always clearer. All this to say, thanks for being one of those teachers who gave a hoot.

Of course I remember fun times too - Mrs. K's baby shower (for Emily, who is now engaged - that makes me old too, right??), plays and speech contests, and watching Rush Limbaugh and playing that board game with a buzzer during study hall. By the way, you will be gratified to know that I got perfect scores on ALL my speeches for the speech class I had to take in college. Frankly, I think I wrote better speeches for you in high school, but I was obviously the only person in the class who had ever done it before. The professor told me I should thank my high school speech teacher - glad I finally got a chance to! =)

Sorry this turned out so long - I always did have a problem keeping my mouth shut!!


Grand Duchess Olga Katrina '93
Grandma Tzietel '94

20/8/06 8:21 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Good to hear from you. I just saw this on 8-25-06. I don't mind long comments. You're always welcome. Those were golden years. I'll never forget the piano octet of Stars and Stripes Forever--what a year for musical talent. Please tell all those from your era hello from us. Am I remembering correctly that Grandma Tzietel had to ride piggy-back on Shin Honda in that nightmare scene--no that was Laser Wolf's widow [Sheri Bakker?] What a riot!

25/8/06 8:22 PM  

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