Teacher Appreciation Week 2014: The Places I Loved and the Lessons I Learned in High School

by Jim Lang

The next four years Jeffersonville High School took me into the world of high school journalism, and thanks to Tony Willis, I never really left. To this day no educational experience has so thoroughly shaped me as a person and as a teacher as being a member of The Hyphen newspaper staff. I loved every minute of it.

I learned to write and report in Tony Willis’s classroom. I learned how to lead and listen, to rely on and value others. I learned how to work with my peers as a team and how to problem solve. And along the way I gained valuable friendships and experienced a love for scholastic journalism that guides virtually every decision I make in my own classroom today.

Mr. Willis’s newspaper room (it was always more than just a classroom) was my home for four years of high school. I carry the lessons I learned from him and my fellow Hyphen journalists to my own student journalists every day. He influenced me in a way that no other teacher ever has.

That’s what I remember the most about Jeffersonville High School – the incredible number of exceptional teachers who contributed so much to who I am today.

French teacher Jenni Herfel initiated my love for travel during a 20-day, 5-nation European class trip in 1985 that remains one of my favorite high school experiences. Traveling with Mrs. Herfel was just like learning in her classroom – it was a fun adventure.

Social studies teacher Margaret Shea taught me to love history and to think deeply, critically, and logically; to this day, I still love solving logic problems because of her European history class.

Government teacher Bill Wilson introduced me to my love for politics and government. English teachers Rita Blois and Judie Wortham continued to introduce me to authors and books that I loved. Reading was fun in their classes. Their colleague, Carolyn Carter, pushed me as a writer more than any English teacher ever has, and in doing so, sharpened my writing skills for college and beyond. Chemistry teacher Jim Kennedy was the strictest teacher I’ve ever had – I had to work every day to earn a “B” in his class. More than any teacher, Mr. Kennedy taught me how to study and to push beyond barriers to learn.

And then there was Jill O’Daniel. I spent three consecutive years in her French classes. Every day was fun. I confess I don’t remember a lot of high school French – Bonjour! Je m’appelle Jim! Aujourd’hui! Um, and oddly enough, Ferme la bouche! But French was just like journalism – project-based, interactive, and challenging. We used to create elaborate projects and posters using French terms. We all had French names – I was Jacques for three years. And perhaps most of all, I remember really enjoying learning with my fellow students. Ms. O’Daniel had this oddly sneaky way of always being prepared yet always placing the responsibility for our learning in our hands. She made me a better student, and in doing so, ultimately has made me a better teacher, too.

My high school years prepared me perfectly for life. Jeffersonville High School was a school full of special, dedicated teachers who worked every day to make a lasting impact in the lives of their students.

And here’s the thing. Don’t let the false rhetoric of education “reform” and misguided emphasis we now place on standardized tests and school-wide grades fool you – Jeffersonville High School is still filled with dedicated, incredibly talented educators. The names have changed. The challenges are different. But the dedication to the success of each child remains.

Thursday: A Special Place Defined by Two Special College Teachers

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