Teacher Appreciation Week: Thanks to some of the amazing ones I had

When I think of the perfect teacher, the first name that comes to mind is George Feeny. The cornerstone fictional teacher from my favorite show, Boy Meets World. As a kid, I always wished I had a George Feeny in my life.

He taught his class not only about the subject matter, but also taught them about life beyond the four walls.

“Education is not about obscure facts and little test scores. Education is about the overall affects of years of slow absorption. Concepts, philosophies, approaches to problem solving. The whole process is so grand and all-encompassing that it really can’t be threatened by the occasional late night no-hitter.”

Education never stops. But it certainly kick starts with the help of our educators.

No matter how great the teacher, there are still some students who fall through the cracks. There are some who never reach their potential in the classroom, similar to Shawn Hunter.

That was me. I certainly didn’t fall through the cracks so to speak. However, I also didn’t put my best effort into passing those tests.

Hell, the first test I ever took in school, I took out my book and cheated. Didn’t realize I couldn’t do that. There was a question and I didn’t know the answer. So, I attempted to find it. I didn’t know I couldn’t do that though. I found out quickly when my teacher (Mrs. Newchurch) grabbed my test and ripped it. She called my mom because they knew each other and was apparently mortified. My mom told her to fail me for it.

I wound up getting a make up. From there, it was a long list of shortcuts and not putting in maximum effort. I did what I could to pass.

I just wrapped up season 5. Topanga elects to not give the valedictorian speech. She passes it on to Shawn. He goes on to talk about just wanting to get by with school. Now that it is over, he finds himself crawling back and realizes he could’ve done better. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Same my man, same.

Whether it was elementary school, middle school, high school or college (at least year 1 and 2), I zoomed through it. Most of the time, I didn’t put my best foot forward to succeed. I wanted to get by and do my thing.

In fact, one of the teachers mentioned on this list told my dad while tailgating for a Saints game, “yeah he didn’t give a shit always, but once he did, he got it.”

That is not to say I have regrets of how I did in school. I am damn proud of the person I am. It sure as shit wasn’t the test scores and measurables that led me to being the person I am.

Of course, I had a great supporting cast at home, as well as great friends and an amazing girl by my side for the back half of schooling.

I also received a wonderful education from many of the teachers I had along the way. Sometimes you don’t recognize that until later in life. Some of those teachers stand out to you immediately. Others, it takes time to recognize the impact.

In the series finale a few seasons later, Shawn thanks Feeny in tears sharing how important it was that Feeny never gave up on him, not once. That is the most basic reason why I am writing this…to say thank you to those who did their part in uplifting their students.

I want to share how wonderful they are and some of the fun memories I have. I also wanted to share what led them to teaching.

That is one of my favorite parts of social media. I still have the opportunity to connect and keep up with these awesome people, making it infinitely easier to write this.

9th Grade – Bill Plasse aka Mr. Plasse (Advisory)

I first met Mr. Plasse in AA. I know what your thinking, alcoholics anonymous. Not quite. Although my high school years beyond 9th grade would certainly indicate that is where I was headed. But, no.

At Destrehan, we were matched up with teachers for advisory. It was essentially free period vent sessions almost. Maybe not by design, but let’s call a spade a spade.

Despite never having him as a teacher for English, he always seemed willing to hear out any student. That was based on my experience in advisory. The one thing I will never let him forget is him taking an entire 60 minutes of advisory to tell the whale joke in this ridiculously monotone voice. I am almost positive this joke could be used as an interrogation tactic by the military for how awful the punchline was. I think we had about 20 of us in advisory. All of us left with the same thought…what the fuck did we just sit through?

Since graduating high school, he has become a great friend and supporter of anything I have done. One of the things I cherish most about our friendship is being able to hold discussions about complex matters such as politics, societal issues, etc. Part of that is because even at 14, I never felt like he viewed students as less than.

When asked why he became a teacher and why he loves it, Bill said the following…

“I had been working in retail and hated the sameness of it. No change day-in / day-out, and it’s not like I was really making the world a better place. 

Teaching lets me do that. It’s a long process, and you won’t know for years if you succeeded, but it’s worth the effort. My personal goal is to finish the day a little smarter than I started, and I try to pass that along to students. 

And probably, the best reward of teaching is seeing the kids you taught grow into independent, capable adults making their own marks in the world.”

10th Grade – John Burny Robinson aka Rob or Mr. Rob (Geometry)

If you are a student, do not refer to him as Burny. That was a one way ticket to the shit list. He was that young teacher who you were able to level with as a teen. He wanted you to feel part of his class more so than just in his class.

Because of his, for lack of a better word, immature and goofy personality, it related well to a bunch of 15-year-olds. An example is when people would start getting a little too rowdy talking, he would quickly turn away from the problem on the board and scream “SHHHHHH! YOU’LL WAKE THE BABY!” It was his light-hearted sarcasm that kept me engaged with his class. That is a tall order to be engaged in math at 7:30 am. But damn it, he did it.

He also knew a little about each of his students. One of the cool parts about Rob that I remember is him alluding to me being a sports reporter one day. He actually mentioned that in his quote below pinning me for what I was going to strive to be.

Although it was short-lived, he knew enough about his students to know little nuggets about what they may want to do with their lives.

When asked why he became a teacher and why he loves it, Rob said the following…

“I was playing bass on Bourbon Street and tutoring on the side. Had no clue what to do after I graduated college after 7 years. Rock star wasn’t happening and I was 25. Teaching had retirement and medical. Once I started, it was addictive. Teens were so much funnier than adults.

It’s pretty cool to see 18 years of teen people become adults. I’ve gotten fairly good at recognizing where people are headed and that’s neat. I figured out what you should be doing halfway through the year.”

10th Grade – Debbie Ulrich aka Mrs. Ulrich (English)

I wound up “passing” and I use that loosely because I received a D. It was no fault of her own. I had her for my final class of the day and I am not sure what was going on, but I was always tired. So I would get in, put my head and boom, lights out.

Despite that, she did one of the coolest things imaginable for me. Much like other teachers I had, she knew I wanted to be a broadcaster. She went the extra mile for me when she had absolutely zero reason to.

She pulled me aside after class informing me that Saints long time play-by-play announcer Jim Henderson was speaking to another class one day. She asked if I would be interested in meeting him. Of course I said yes.

She wrote me a note to get me pulled from another class for to meet someone who I looked up to. That meant a lot to me. I got to hear him give his presentation and she introduced me to him after his presentation. He and I spoke for a few minutes.

Despite the disrespect of sleeping in class, she thought enough of me to do that. That’s awesome.

When asked why she became a teacher and why she loves it, Debbie said the following…

“I kind of fell into teaching! I knew I loved literature and wanted a job that would be family friendly. I didn’t grow up thinking I’d be a teacher, and didn’t decide to be one until I was almost finished with college. However, I loved it from the beginning. I love the connection with students and watching them get excited about literature. Now that I’m teaching juniors and doing ACT prep in my class, I enjoy seeing students do well and get scores that will allow them to get scholarships.”

10th & 11th Grade – Chuck Hughes aka Coach Hughes (Speech I and II)

I have made my fair share of speeches throughout my life, even outside of classrooms. It was his class that helped me. It bridged that gap to overcome the fear.

One of the best parts about a guy like him is the infectious positive energy. I looked forward to second and fourth period for his classes every day.

One of the toughest assignments was when our class had to set up as a “wax museum” of famous individuals. Another class was to come in and we would tell them about ourselves once they reached our spot in the class, which was us standing still and coming to life. Imagine how awkward that was. Not only did we have to overcome a bunch of random people, we had to memorize a one-minute monologue. It was tough, but I nailed it.

Because of coach, I was able to crush my performance as Bill Romanowski.

When asked why he became a teacher and why he loves it, Coach said the following…

“I actually became a coach before I became a teacher. I coached a pee wee football team my junior year in college. I loved it so much I went to my adviser and told him I wanted to change my degree plan from business to education. I ended up teaching for 40 years. Never regretted that decision for a minute. 

I loved teaching for several reasons. First, it kept me young. I was 63 when I retired and yet I knew all the kid’s slang terms, their music, and all of the “in” things. Second, I loved watching kids grow and mature whether it was for one semester or four years. (Yes, I actually had some students for all four years). Now I am home schooling my 8 year old granddaughter and enjoying every minute of it.”

12th Grade – Albert Dupont aka too many nicknames to list (Adv TV Broadcasting)

The one behind the one in Hotard Huddle. This is where my interest in the technical side took off. He allowed us the freedom to experiment and create what drove us thus leading to higher work production.

He was more of a friend than a teacher based on the program offered by St. Charles Parish. He was always willing to lend a helping hand long after gradutation.

The guy would literally do anything for his students to help them land jobs, internships, etc. Whatever we needed, he would provide. During my first year with Nicholls football, he lent me one of his cameras for the season. He got me in to broadcasts for the Zephyrs. There’s a laundry list of ways he went above and beyond for me.

He and I still go grab lunch on occasion and shoot the shit about anything and everything including his former students, which he holds in high regard.

When asked why he became a teacher and why he loves it, Dupont said the following…

“I kind of fell into teaching. I had been kicking around the idea of teaching broadcasting at a university or college when my wife saw the ad for the Satellite Center. Never had I thought about teaching high school, but I applied and ended up with the job. I loved it from the very beginning! Why? The Students! It is awesome to see what former students are doing in their careers, even if it isn’t broadcast. But kind of cool if it is. It is cool to think that I was a small part of speaking that interest or helping them get a foot in the door in broadcast, journalism or film.”

College – Nicki Boudreaux aka Nicki (MACO and Advisor for Nicholls Worth)

She was the first MACO teacher I had and I absolutely loved MACO 101 that I took it twice. Just kidding, see all the things about me being an awful student. I got a C and decided to retake to raise my miserable GPA. Play the long game. Eventually, I was hired by the student paper that she oversaw.

The Nicholls Worth is a big reason why I fell in love with writing. I always envisioned myself on TV until I started writing regularly. She was always someone you could go to for help. In fact, I did quite a few times.

One of the conflicts of interest was me writing about Nicholls Athletics due to my position with the football program. I stayed clear of writing about them, but used my position to lure more financial articles regarding athletics. She helped me find that happy medium and also trusted my judgement to do both.

One of my favorite experiences for The Worth was when I had an international student athlete discussing coming to the US for a piece about language barriers. It was fun. It was honest. One of them was quoted saying it was tough because he would sit in the back of the room like a dumbass at first. The coach got pissed at him and me for writing it, she was the first to defend me when we got the call.

It wasn’t just “oh this is my guy, I’ll defend him.” She was always fair.

I said something very insensitive about someone who filed a lawsuit against the school. I won’t say who or describe the situation or person because most Nicholls students will probably know exactly who I am talking about. It was her who lit in to my ass for saying what I said…as she should have. It was politically incorrect. If I am not willing to put it on here, that should say enough about how bad it was.

I remember visiting her office during my time with the paper I was hired by after college. I had been doing a story on campus and wanted to visit all my people. I remember venting to her about it, she listened and guided.

When asked why she became a teacher and why she loves it, Nicki said the following…

“I loved college. And by that, I don’t just mean I loved my college experience (but I loved that too). I loved the feeling I got at Nicholls. The interactions with the professors, the classrooms, the discussions, I never wanted it to end. I wanted to live my life on a college campus. I wanted to be like one of those professors who impacted me so much. So, that’s what I did, and the last 19 years did not disappoint. I think what I love most about teaching are the individual relationships I get to create with students. I see them at their highest of highs and get to celebrate that. I see them at their lowest of lows and help them through. It’s about so much more than what I teach in the classroom or the newsroom. It’s about being a life mentor. I was meant to teach. 

College – Michael Jeffress aka Dr. Jeffress (Speech and Interpersonal Communication)

I remember taking his speech 101 and he started plugging his new interpersonal communication class for next semester. Without hesitation, I made sure to sign up. It didn’t disappoint. I enjoyed both of those classes very much.

Much like Coach Hughes in high school, he was fantastic. He was critical, but fair in his grading. I certainly learned plenty from him.

One of the hardest assignments we had to do was recite a song that meant something to us. Literally, read the lyrics and give a speech on what it meant. I chose The Show Goes On by Lupe Fiasco, which was popular at the time. Embarrassingly enough, I started flowing midway through the song. God help me. I am glad that is not on video somewhere.

When my grandpa passed away, I wrote the eulogy for his funeral. I asked Dr. Jeffress to take a peak for me. He said he was happy and honored to do it and commented how well written it was. Honestly, I don’t remember too many critiques on it, if any. Again, it’s another fine example of going the extra mile for a student.

When asked why he became a teacher and why he loves it, Dr. Jeffress said the following…

“I became a teacher to empower people. Knowledge is power. Without education, people do not have the power to change, and much in this world needs changing. It is about making the world a better place for everyone. This can’t happen without education. I feel I was born to teach. It is about the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I experience self-actualization in the classroom.”

College – Andy Simoncelli aka Dr. Simoncelli (MACO)

Although we used to call him Andy just to bust his chops, he was always one of the cool ones. The definition of someone who would return to sender, which made his classes fun.

The discussion of three point lighting is obviously one of the most interesting topics you can imagine. Because of his sarcasm and side rants about Wal Mart being a massive conglomerate and we should support local…and always recycle, his classes were fun no matter what.

Every class began with me asking (as we waited for people to pile in) if he was going to listen to Overtime today, he would always say “oh yeah, absolutely.” That would result in me turning to my buddy Courtland (my co-host) shaking my head and loudly saying, “Andy won’t be listening today.”

His classes were always filled with plenty of insults and laughter. Sometimes that is just what the doctor ordered (see what I did there, Andy?).

When asked why he became a teacher and why he loves it, Dr. Simoncelli said the following…

“A lot of students just want to get through class and get through college. They truly appreciate what they went through once they are gone for a few years. One of the best things is like this. I want to help students appreciate college and their classroom experience after they graduate and get out in the real world.”

College – Lance Arnold aka Dr. Lance (MACO and KNSU Advisor)

Considering the bromance of Lance and the aforementioned Andy, some of us called him Dr. Lance despite him not being a doctor while refusing to acknowledge Andy as Dr.

Lance is my boy. You should check out his page NOLA SOME if you haven’t, real great stuff for all you New Orleans lovers.

Lance taught all the higher level classes so he was our go-to guy for pretty much everything MACO or KNSU. Much like Andy, he flirted well with the line of helping and just having fun.

My favorite broadcast moment came when I was anchoring one of our weekly shows. One of the guys in the class did a story on Sundance the dog who swallowed five bills ($500). When I was reading the teleprompter, I got tongue tied and said swallowed five balls. I can’t imagine the look on my face because I saw Lance sprinting from our production room laughing. I couldn’t get through the story as I am sitting at the anchor desk laughing uncontrollably. I just turned to my co-host and told her take it away.

I walked back into the production room after and he said something along the lines of you really fought through that, didn’t you? I just looked at him and said you ran out the damn room laughing.

When asked why he became a teacher and why he loves it, Lance said the following…

“My senior year as an undergraduate, I was given the opportunity to teach. Mainly because the old school teacher that I was under did not want to deal with the new installed technology. I liked teaching, but more importantly, I like learning. Much of what I know and do today did not exist before.

Teaching allows me to help others realize their dreams, gives me the time to learn and often I get to learn from those I am teaching. When a student is passionate enough to teach me some things, it is a prideful moment.”

 

 

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