Influential Teachers 8

Teaching Beyond the Classroom

The job of a teacher is a special one and, though you’ve probably had that one teacher in your life you’ll never forget, there are so many teachers inspiring their students every day. The great teachers stand out because they can introduce that one novel to a student that could be the catalyst to becoming the next Stephen King, can turn a number-illiterate student into an engineer or have a life-changing effect on those students that say, “I hate school.” Boise is growing fast, yet these four Boise teachers are keeping up with the needs of this changing environment with charisma, virtue and stamina— preparing their students for the future to come.

Nancy Tacke at Anser Charter School

Nancy Tacke is one of those teachers that doesn’t need special tricks or schemes to attract the attention of her students; it is her passion for the subject and love of teaching that shines through in her classroom. Although she is only starting her second year at Anser Charter School, she is no stranger to the education system. She has a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Boise State University. Her husband Chuck has been a teacher for 27 years at Bishop Kelly High School, so education is embedded in everything she cares about.

Tacke is dedicated to history—especially Idaho history—and when she became a mom, she knew she couldn’t commit to being a full-time teacher. She made a list of criteria for the perfect job and almost immediately found the best-case scenario.  She sought a job that was part-time, used her research skills and focused on history and education—and the Center for History and Politics at Boise State University had been seeking just that. She worked there for seven years where she wore many different hats and also authored a fourth-grade textbook called The Idaho Adventure.

When her kids grew up, she was desperate to get back to teaching. Her current school is an EL—or expeditionary learning—school, which is now a mentor school for other schools trying this model for the first time. This means that each year, students take an “expedition” as a way of learning all subjects. Students are given more responsibility than in regular schools and are asked to set personal goals. Tacke’s adventurous spirit is a perfect fit for these expeditions and she couldn’t be happier teaching what she loves to her convivial fourth and fifth-grade students.

Jess Hawley at Frank Church High School

If you’ve ever met Jess Hawley, chances are you found out exactly what his passion is within the first few minutes. With the help of supporters, including his principal Derek Gardner and the Boise Public School Education Foundation, Hawley has put together an incentive program that provides basic needs for his students at Frank Church High School in return for keeping up their grades.

He’s got a lot of heavy lifting to do and has taken on the challenge at a superhero level, though he would argue that there’s nothing really super about it—he’s just providing basic needs to students who don’t have access to them. So many students are living in poverty or in homes where they don’t feel safe, which means learning is their last priority. High school is hard enough, and today’s environment asks more and more of students while simultaneously placing pressure on students through social media in a way that can tear young people to pieces. Add being homeless or dealing with a parent addicted to drugs, and everything else becomes nearly impossible.

We often forget that basic needs also include having fun. Hawley brings students to Bogus Basin and gears them up with help from local partners, such as Play It Again Sports and REI. For their first time, they don’t have to earn any special grades. But if they want to keep skiing or snowboarding, their grades must stay up. Boise is a different place when you can’t afford to participate in recreation, yet many things we take for granted feel like a luxury for some people. Playing outside and being a kid can be a huge stress relief for these students who had to become adults at a young age and should be accessible to everyone.

Being a teacher is more than just teaching, and how Hawley has become invested in his students is proof of that. He says he’s never afraid to ask for support from community members or businesses, and as soon as he starts talking about the program, the necessity of it becomes apparent. The program is growing rapidly and he hopes to expand to other schools that are also in need. Check out FrankChurch.BoiseSchools.org to stay up to date on this project. The effect this has on their students demonstrates how getting something as simple as face wash can be life changing.

Chuck McHenry At Borah High School

Chuck McHenry grew up knowing that teaching was his destiny. His mother was an English teacher and his dad taught science, so teaching was embedded in his identity. He finished his 23rd year of teaching at Borah High School this spring, which is quite impressive to anyone who has parented or taught teenagers. He’s experienced a lot through the years, and before having to wrangle cellphones from the Snapchat obsessed millennials, he recalls having to teach how to use email from the few blocky computers scattered throughout the school.

McHenry’s presence is casual but demands respect, which is perhaps at the core of a good teacher. He has seen so many of his students accomplish exciting things; this is what keeps McHenry engaged with his students each year. Though he says high school drama has remained the same, he’s experienced the change of the city and the change of the school. One of the most significant and positive changes he’s seen is the influx of refugee students who bring a worldly perspective to the learning environment.

Teachers are always teachers, whether they are on the clock or not. McHenry is a podcast enthusiast and soon thought, “I wonder if high school students could do this?” All it takes is a few dedicated students, some recording equipment and teachers committed to offering out-of-the-box pedagogy to their students. “The Borah Pridecast” gained traction when he realized how much was going on each day around the school that could be produced into a podcast.

The podcast became a vehicle for students to become “mini-experts.” McHenry proudly talks about one student who was accepted to Yale, and he believes it was because of a compelling essay she wrote about being a student at Borah High School. She read her essay for one of the first episodes and shows one way the students could display hard work to an audience beyond the classroom. Download the first episodes from SoundCloud or iTunes to get a sneak-peek into high school life.

Patti Wiseman Adams At Trail Wind Elementary

Although Patti Wiseman-Adams had to take on teaching math after being away from it for 12 years, her passion lies in teaching writing—she gets to learn more about her students through their work than any other subject. She recalls how important her English classes were when she was young, and how writing and literature opened up the world in a new way. Wiseman-Adams is an American Indian of the Chippewa tribe and grew up on a reservation in Montana. When she was in seventh grade, there weren’t a lot of opportunities available to her, especially being a girl. When her teacher shared stories like Frankenstein or Alice in Wonderland, books that were sometimes seen as too edgy for young people, she felt like she wasn’t being limited by her age or abilities.

Wiseman-Adams shares this same sentiment with her own students today by giving them access to different writing styles and genres.

“You’ve got to expose them, give them opportunities, give them choices, talk about it…and sometimes we have to scrap something and try it again,” she says.

Teaching isn’t easy, and she believes that it’s OK if you need to talk through challenges multiple times.

Wiseman-Adams lives and breathes the virtues of education in a way that is selfless and permissive. She didn’t share with her students that she was diagnosed with, and battled, cancer twice during fall 2016. She was out for six weeks, but the school community reached out to her, and the homemade cards from her students kept coming. She realized that surviving this illness was a way to teach her students about cancer and that you can overcome challenges.

“When you feel uncomfortable,” Wiseman-Adams says, “is when you start to learn.”

And sometimes, you don’t know what that is until you come face-to-face with it.