The Way We Were – 1942-45 & 1967-70

Part 33B by Warren Thomas

At last writing, Marian Koehn was only 22 and a fascinating young lady just out of two years of commercial studies in Nettleton’s Commercial College. Looking for a job, she had been hired to teach business classes at Forestburg High school. In another world and another time, she would have been just another teacher. They come and they go. However, Miss Koehn had come to stay for at least nine months of my junior year, 1944-45. That quickly became quite important to me. She would be teaching typing and I had signed up to learn typing.
She, at age 22, and we, young pups of 15 and 16, were to be in daily classroom contact five days a week for nine months. Someone should have been riding herd on such hounds! As the fall school year moved along, nuances of rapport developed between three or four of us youngsters of the junior class and Miss Koehn. The other guys and all the girls were daily typing students who drudged their ways in and out of the typing room. For the rascals among us, here’s how it developed.
Miss Koehn was a delightful person. Always friendly, out-going, and capable, she, without intention, was drawing us into a circle of friendly give-and-take on most mornings before classes began. Little by little, guys involved would deposit books from home on our study hall desks and then meander into the typing room. We (Gene Ellingson, did that include you?) would banter back and forth with each other and with the teacher, usually hanging around until the 9 a.m. bell rang. I don’t recall that she ever asked us to leave, nor did she comment that we might have other classes to prepare for. The plain fact was that she enjoyed our company, never singling out anyone for special attention, but obviously finding her school day beginning in a delightful way. It was nice to be popular as a first-year teacher.
Therein lay a problem and the kind of issue with which I had to deal decades later as a teacher myself and as a principal. It is generally understood by effective teachers that they cannot play favorites. Class members must be treated equally no matter how the vibes may line up between teacher and student. There must be a clearly understood line between the one in authority and those who are there to learn. The very first day in the classroom is where the authority figure sets the guidelines, which will establish the success or failure of the classroom activities therein. Certain teachers innately possess the personal attribute of classroom authority; others must develop it through consistent effort. But with Miss Koehn, nice person that she was, her Nettleton classes apparently taught her subject matter but not classroom management. And being inexperienced, having friends in her typing class seemed more important than developing a more rigid teacher-student separation. At first and on the surface, special treatment of students can seem to be a delightful thing for both teacher and students. But it can become a weakness which can come back to bite the most well-intentioned teacher.
Over the years, I recommended the firing of three teachers, two of whom became unprofessionally buddy, buddy with the students. Miss Koehn and the junior boys continue next time.

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