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Last week was American Education Week, recognizing all those involved in educating our children. This week is Thanksgiving, where we pause from our busy lives to give thanks for the many gifts we have in life. These two ideas have mashed-up for this week’s column!

Gary Nordlie, former English teacher at NRHEG, passed away recently. He was a legend when I arrived in New Richland in 1996 and retired three years later. However, as my mentor, he helped guide me in the right direction as a teacher. He didn’t utter a word about what to teach or how to teach it in those three years. However, he gave me valuable advice that made me not only a better teacher, but a better person.

Naturally, the Mr. Nordlie stories have been flowing freely among the staff that knew him. Every story ends with a laugh and a smile. He may not have always been a traditional teacher, but that’s what made him even better, and that in itself helped to inspire my methods of teaching.

The best advice he ever told me was this: “Always wear a tie to parent-teacher conferences. There’s a chance you might have to tell parents their child is a moron, and you’d better look good when you say that.” And now you know why I almost always wear a tie, not just to conferences, but every day at work!

I’ve seen so many tributes to Mr. Nordlie on Facebook, and it got me to thinking about teachers who inspired me. Everyone can name at least one teacher that had a profound impact, but a few come to mind for me.

Mr. Craig Galvin was my third grade teacher. Mr. Galvin was that fun teacher who interacted with every student and knew how to push each of us to achieve at our own levels. The biggest impact Mr. Galvin had on me was his monthly assignment to write a story. Most of these were creative writing, which can be difficult for third graders. I was motivated to have my classmates vote my story the best each month and kept pushing myself to be more and more creative.

I still have all those stories. It’s fun to sit down and read them sometimes. I know I wouldn’t enjoy writing today without the guidance of Mr. Galvin all those years ago. Thank you, Mr. Galvin!

Mrs. Lorraine Boesch was my eighth grade language arts teacher. She was a much more traditional teacher, and many kids didn’t like her, probably because her class was tough and her expectations high. I thought I could get away with some easier books to read for book reports, but she nailed me on that and kept giving me books that were long and different genres. I would shake my head, but read them…and often found some great works of literature.

I never would have read Louis L’Amour or Johnny Tremain if not for Mrs. Boesch. I started to understand her dry sense of humor during that year. Looking back, I adopted some of her style when it comes to expectations in my own classroom. Thank you, Mrs. Boesch!

Mr. Larry Tise was my English teacher for two years in high school. He was a long-haired guy who you never would have pictured teaching in a Catholic school. Despite the rawness of his demeanor, he presented material in an unforgettable way. We’d often sit in a circle and just talk about whatever was going on, and then he would use that for an assignment, and we wouldn’t even realize that we were working.

Mr. Tise died a few years ago, right before I was ready to teach a writing lesson that he used for us. Every year, I continue to teach a creative writing prep lesson before my students write to music, and every year I dig out the writing I did for Mr. Tise the day he taught that lesson to me. Thank you, Mr. Tise!

Dr. Marjorie Dorner was an English professor that I took for four classes at Winona State. She was the toughest teacher in the department, and my goal was to get an A in one of her classes. I finally did in her Modern Drama class, because I finally got over my intimidation of her and went and asked for help. I was amazed as she compared the paper I was writing to the first one I had ever written for her in my freshman English class!

Dr. Dorner was a pleasant woman once you took the time to get to know her. Looking back, I wish I had done that sooner. It was tough when she would be blunt about if my work was terrible, but that helped me tremendously to look at my writing with a keener eye. Thank you, Dr. Dorner!

Look at that – Mr. Nordlie has inspired again – a whole column’s worth! I just hope one of his wishes never comes true. He used to so enjoy the hamburger gravy and mashed potatoes at school that he said when he died, he wanted his ashes mixed in with the next batch. I think I’ll bring my own lunch that day.

Word of the Week: This week’s word has been named the 2013 Word of the Year and will be added to the dictionary. It is selfie, which is a picture taken of yourself that you use in social media, as in, “The teenager kept taking selfies until she found the perfect one for her Facebook profile.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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