The Secret Life of the American Teacher

Chloe Baker, Web Opinions Editor

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As the piercing bell of last period rings, students take a deep breath of relief and rush out of their dreaded classrooms as quickly as possible.

Some take the time to gesture goodbye to their teachers, who are still sitting at their wooden desk, waiting for when they get to finally escape.

 Some students may imagine their teachers sitting there for hours, perusing essays and grading tests.

Come dinnertime, students imagine, teachers shuffle to the cafeteria and purchase a grilled panini or chicken fries.

After updating Blackboard or Jupiter Grades on the school’s desktops, they finally carve a niche under their desks where they fall into a deep slumber.

This is hardly the case.

“Students have this image that teachers aren’t human beings…and I thought exactly the same when I was in high school,” math teacher Mr. Wilkes said.

“The thing is, we do have lives.”

The 18th Century Stiles-ist:

When imagining members of the 5th Connecticut Regiment from the American Revolution, patriots clad in blue and red coats hiding behind muskets comes to mind.

Not many students would think first of librarian Robin Stiles.

As an avid member of the Southbury Historical Society, Stiles signed her house up as a part of a historical house tour. A group of people who toured her house were the members of the regiment, and that was the night her husband enlisted.

Stiles goes with her regiment to reenact any battles that their 1770s counterparts took part in. They travel exactly to where the battle occurred; this has included trips to Delaware, upstate New York, New Jersey and even San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In an attempt to make their house authentic for the time period, Stiles and her husband transformed their dining room into a 1780 tavern by replacing the large table with small, wooden tables and Revolutionary decor.

“I have to look like a private’s wife following the army. This means wearing no jewelry, and after hand sewing my outfits, I have to dirty them a little bit to look realistic. Also, my usual prescription glasses are too modern, so I purchased Ben Franklin-esque prescription spectacles,” said Stiles.

Kim Palcable Joins the Party:

Some students’ biggest fear is running into their teacher out of school, whether it’s at Carvel or Stop & Shop.

But what if they walked into a fitness class at their gym to see their English teacher as their Zumba instructor?

Palca had been hearing a lot of buzz about Zumba, about how it has a “party” atmosphere and is not just another exercise class.

After seeing advertisements for Zumba classes in her town, she and a fellow teacher decided to finally try it.

Palca said, “The mix of international music paired with dancing really didn’t feel like a workout at all; I was having fun and exercising, and that was new to me…After that first class, I was hooked!”

After Zumba became a part of her daily routine, taking three to four classes a week, Palca listened to the advice of some instructors suggested who suggested that she get a certification to instruct classes herself.

After vacillating, Palca decided to complete the eight hours of training.

Just as when she teaches, she focuses on making the class as fulfilling and fun as possible for the entire hour.

After a seven-hour day of teaching students how to analyze literature and memorize vocabulary, Palca spends her afternoons teaching her other students the steps and gestures to Latin music.

Mara-Theron Walker:

Theron Kissinger teaches on a fast pace. His explanations of limits come out almost as fast as he walks.

Kissinger is a professional race walker. After finishing fifth in a marathon in Albaquerque, N.M. by power walking, a female trainer asked Kissinger if he would like to learn how to race walk.

Accepting this offer led him to years of race walking success. After training for three consecutive weeks, he qualified for the 20K in New Orleans. He finished in the top 10 in brutally hot and humid weather.

Kissinger qualified for five Pan Am Cup teams and three World Cup teams.

For these races, he travelled to Miami, Tiajuana, Poserica, Ecuador, Peru, Germany, Italy and Spain.

When in Tiajuana, he spent two and a half hours signing autographs for Mexican racewalking fanatics who all purchased pictures of him speedwalking.

From 1999 to 2008, he was sponsored by New Balance.

“After the AP tests are done, I take my AP Calculus classes outside and teach them how to race walk. It’s a lot of fun,” said Kissinger.

Students can only dream that the month spent training in speed walking will lead them to a sneaker sponsorship and eight international competitions.

James on a wire:

Most students would be astounded if one day they saw their math teacher walking down the hallway on her hands.

Caroline James’ students better prepare, because that’s what they get to see later this year.

James has always been a naturally gifted gymnast. But in 1998, she was in Club Med and decided to try flying on the trapeze, an activity the resort provided.

She was very disappointed to hear that she wouldn’t be able to “fly” back in America.

It was over 11 years later when she decided to Google “trapeze school NY” and found classes that take place on a rig over Pier 80.

After showing a lot of interest, the instructor suggested that she sign up for an an intensive flying workshop that would take place two hours a week for 30 weeks straight.

“This was the first time I really did something just for myself,” said James.Just last summer she completed a challenging ropes course and zip line at Catamount Ski Resort.

“The reason I walk on my hands each year is to show my students that I am a human being,” James said.

“You have your interests, and I have mine. I want to share something with them that they’d never know.”

Watch out: Veenem-attack:

If students knew their English teacher was a blue belt in kickboxing and had skills in Filipino stick fighting, maybe they would think twice about texting in class.

Veenema started kickboxing in her hometown gym while she was in high school.

During her first year as a teacher, she began training with a boxing coach near New Haven, and then for five years took kickboxing classes at many different gyms on her own.

That was until fellow English teachers M.E. Fulco and Beth Humphrey began training as well and invited Veenema to join them.

The trio train together at the “dojo” in Fairfield called Stryker Martial Arts. They specialize in Muay Thai kickboxing because they find the training to be so intense.

Veenema has gotten to the blue belt level and “spars” with other students regularly.

Her most recent venture is Doce Pares, a kind of Filipino stick fighting.

“There is a contagious energy that makes you want to push harder. Plus, every few months I get to crack a board in two, which is pretty cool,” Veenema said.

Veenema also enjoys socializing with other teachers outside of school. Whether it’s walking dogs with Brian Tippy, going to dinner with Elizabeth Olbrych, or practicing kickboxing, her life outside of school is always busy.