A Public Thank You to Three Former Teachers

I’ve had some good and interesting teachers in my years on this earth.  In fourth grade Mrs. Podolak was a great teacher and I the class pet…the only time that ever happened.  Funny how that correlation usually works.  The place was Jackson School, Atlantic, Iowa,  in 1974.

Here I came to have a fond affection for Mrs. Podolak, mother of Chiefs star Eddie.  Every week during the season we talked about the big game.  I was a huge Chiefs fan back in the day.  Though I never had the opportunity to meet her famous son, Mrs. Podolak will always be one of my favorite teachers….kind, gentle, engaged, and approachable.

What’s more, I even remember calling her at home to discuss the Chiefs or a class project.  In addition she didn’t hate left-handed people like my first grade teacher who always wore her hair in a bun and was meaner than Mike Ditka when his Bears were getting kicked by the Vikings.  Thank you.

Our family  moved across the state to Newton on the first Friday of October, 1978.   I’ll never forget driving up over the last hill on I-80 around 9:00 p.m. and seeing the stadium lights from the football stadium for the very first time… wondering what the future held.  Moving in eighth grade is tough.

Among other things I joined the band and the jazz band…I’ll never forget absolutely choking on an “If” trumpet solo in the Berg JH gym.  I stood to play and there was no sound.  This was the day 1st chair became a standing joke.   I am thankful to Mr. Brostrom my Junior high band instructor for being more than just a teacher of notes and techniques.

Here was a man who took a genuine interest in the lives of his students…sitting me down and shooting straight with me even as I was beginning to veer off into trouble.  Thank you sir, not for the trumpet lessons, but for the life lessons.  I have since found out that he too is a follower of Jesus.  Looking back now, I can see that this is what made the difference in his life.  Thank you.

I have also had some excellent college and seminary teachers along the way, but for this posting I want to stop at the high school level.  My favorite teacher of all, and the most difficult I ever had, was Mrs. Dorothy Spiker.  She taught College Prep Reading and Writing along with some other high level classes.

I took everything I could from her and didn’t do well in any of her classes.  There are gobs of Newton Alumns who are kindred spirits in this regard.  Though the learning process was often painful I certainly learned a lot from her…things like that a lot is a place to park a car.  Don’t use it.  I also learned how to not split infinitives, along with a host of other tricks of the trade.

I’ll never forget the first pathetic paper I wrote for her.  The title was “The Preservation of Trees.”  Wish I still had it.  In it I argued that we must all take more seriously the desperate plight of trees…even before it was popular. My campaign to save the trees ended the moment I saw the low C.    My primary sources were several different volumes of World Book Encyclopedia.

I came to find out in a very painful manner that Mrs. Spiker did not like this series as an information source for college level papers.   Never used them again…for anything.

Believe it or not these classes are why I love to write to this very day.  It brings me great joy to express myself in words.  Like the sage in Ecclesiastes 12:9says  “The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.”

Were it not for Mrs. Spiker I do not think that I would love writing today.  I now spend much of my life writing.  For nearly a decade and a half I have manuscripted each and every sermon…the equivalent of a 16 page double spaced paper each and every week.  And I love it!  For me this is the essence of what teaching and learning is all about… helping people to find their passions and to do the very best with what they have been given.

Mrs. Spiker and I even went to the same church growing up but I assure you that I didn’t receive any special perks with this association.  I never had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Spiker’s husband, who passed away years before I came to know her.  He too, like me, was a pastor.  No doubt he was also an intelligent man…with good grammar and a command of the English language.

Perhaps the reason she was so tough on me was that she knew that I too would one day be a pastor and would need to have at least some writing skills, of which I would have had none if she had not been so tough.  Mrs. Spiker: the toughest, most demanding teacher I’ve ever known…but one of my favorites ever…Thank you.

Does anyone out there know these former teachers of mine?  If so, what do you think?

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6 thoughts on “A Public Thank You to Three Former Teachers”

  1. Mrs. Spiker was one of my favorite teachers and one of two that had the most influence on me. I agree with everything you’ve said about her, she was tough, but she certainly inspired me, I love to write and I can’t stand the new shorthand so often used in texting, etc.. I still have our handbook and pull it out when I have questions about correct grammar and punctuation.

    The other teacher that had the most influence on me was my 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Dammeier. She gave me the skills and desire to become a voracious reader. In later years, she would become my neighbor and, to make the world a bit smaller, she was also my mother-in-laws teacher in the one room school house that sat just up the road from where I sit right now.

    My favorite teacher was my third grade teacher, Mrs. McGuin. For some unknown reason, we clicked. When I left elementary school and went over to junior high I became her student helper and did that all three years (I’m pretty sure, 2 for sure). To this day, she recognizes me when we see each other in the store.

    Thanks for bringing up these memories, Mike. It’s so important to remember those people that have influenced, for good and for bad (don’t want history repeating itself!).

    Continuing to pray for you and the family. God Bless you all!

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  2. What an entertaining article, Mike! I remember Mrs. Podalak also, having her as a Social Studies teacher, I believe. Is that right? I remember the first grade teacher you had – Mrs. Ertz (is it okay to put her name here?) She was so stern, had rod dots on her cheeks as rouge, and always had a hairband around her bun that matched her slacks for the day. Mom worked for the school in her later years and found out she cut the bottoms off her slacks (she was quite petite) and made those headbands. I had the most wonderful second grade teacher Mrs. Anderson. She was tall, thin, and had short straight gray hair. Again, one of those tough teachers but you learned so much from them! Mr. Netzel, our chorus teacher in high school was another of my favorite teachers. He could tell you straight when you were getting into trouble (rumors in the teacher’s lounge) and make you want to do right. Thanks for the memories and looking forward to seeing you on Saturday! Love you and all yours.

    [Mike Responds: You’re still my only sister, yep, that’s the right teacher, and we too look forward to seeing you Saturday at Mustards for pizza!]

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  3. Mike, loved your article. I didn’t realize you were from Atlantic – both of my parents were raised there, married there, my older sister was born there, etc. Ever know any Fudge’s or Thatcher’s? My grandparents owned the Pullman Hotel in Atlantic…it was torn down in the early 70s. It’s funny you mention the Podolaks because my dad used to play football with Eddie Podolak when they were kids (Eddie was a few years younger than my dad.) I must mention, however, that you were in the 4th grade in 1974, not in 1970. We started kindergarten in 1970, so it’s easy to remember which grade we were in in each year (i.e., 1st grade = 1971, 2nd grade = 1972, etc.) I had Dot Spiker for College Prep writing and also consider her and Mrs. Tori Reynolds who taught Humanities my best H.S. teachers. Every time I write the word “there” I think of Mrs. Spiker because she absolutely despised that word and thought it had no place in the English language. Sometimes I write it even though I know it would make her mad…like there. (:)) Did you ever take Humanities? I thought it was the best course offerred at NHS. At least your long term memory is still going strong! Have a good day, Lora

    [Mike says: Thanks Lora! I appreciate your comments…Yes, I realized earlier this evening that I had my years off! I will get that changed. Not a detail kind of guy…my wife is good for details. Nope I don’t remember any Fudge’s or Thatcher’s from Atlantic…We lived there from ’68-’78. Before that we lived in Adel. I don’t remember the Pullman hotel either. Very cool that your dad played football with Eddie P. when they were kids. I don’t remember taking humanities either. It’s amazing though how even a few good classes and teachers can leave a lasting impact on a kid who wasn’t all that interested in school.]

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  4. Mike,
    I just read about the battle you and your family is facing. Please know you are in the prayers and thoughts of Mark and me. We will extend the prayer intentions that you requested to our faith community as well.
    I stumbled onto this blog entry. It caught my eye and, as a 4th grade teacher, I must say how great it was to read your insights and reflection on what impressions teachers left on your spirit. Mrs. Spiker was brutal and I have heard many times about the indelible mark she has left on many a student of NHS!
    Peace and mercy be with you-
    Michelle

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  5. Mike,

    I’ve been following your blog and have been meaning to respond. I couldn’t let this topic pass by without a comment. When I think about teachers who had the greatest impact on me, Dorothy Spiker always rises to the top of the list. I hated writing before taking her college prep writing class. I even tried to get my counselor to let me take an easier English class because I was so fearful of Mrs. Spiker’s class. I learned so much in the first class that I willingly signed up for the advanced college prep class!

    We are home schooling our children, so I have been following your writing for several years in the NICHE newsletter which is where I learned about your current situation. Your article is usually the first thing I read. My husband and I both enjoy your thoughts and insights and appreciate your sincere love for the Lord and for your family. I have long admired your writing skills and have often wondered if you took any classes from Mrs. Spiker. Now, I know!

    I have been praying for you and your family, and I have asked my church to be in prayer for you also. May God bless you and your family as you continue to put your trust in Him and walk in His strength.

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  6. I am a NHS 1988 alumni who recalls Mrs. Dorothy Spiker fondly too. Her stern demeanour coaxed even the shyest students out. ” With an age group prone to conformity, she taught us the strength and importance of our unique voices. One of my proudest moments was her appreciating my review of a particular author enough to borrow their book I had just finished reading.
    Dorothy Spiker also took the time to explain stuff, showing our thirst for knowledge respect. She explained how life often requires we take an occasional stand; if we couldn’t in the safety of our schools and homes, where could we?
    I took two of the bravest stands of my life within her classroom. One is too personal to describe. The other was a paper written on a day she was unexpectedly absent, having left no regular lesson plans. The substitute decided to have us write on our ‘Fly in the Ointment’ a.k.a. ‘Pet Peeve’ fom amongst several potential subjects she phoned in as suggestions. Mine had been hypocrites. As example, I asked she be accountable for her lack of preparation after years of demanding shoes for pens and sometimes refusing exams to students without college ruled paper.
    My paper got read aloud as the best example she’d seen under that topic. Following it, she apologized for not meeting her own standards of preparedness. She validated my criticism. Then she humbled herself to ask our forgiveness as it was due to something she felt needed to be supported: day at the state capital lobbying for better pay for teachers so future students education weren’t jeopordized. In that rare exchange she showed great integrity. I am still in awe of her.

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