Photo Essay: Revisiting beloved AAPS teachers (Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!)
Since I’m a little too close with my friends from high school, and since most of my new friends are also from Ann Arbor, I decided to take advantage of my failure to branch out in college and make a photo essay honoring our favorite teachers from across Ann Arbor Public Schools. Most of these friends just graduated from the University on May 1, and those of us who graduated are going to go our separate ways – most of us leaving Ann Arbor for the first time – so I thought we should make an effort to reconnect with our old teachers. If we didn’t do it now, we wouldn’t do it later, and that’s something we might regret. This possibility of regret isn’t a problem for those who don’t have a desire to remember their grade school days, but we feel lucky to have many fond memories, thanks to some wonderful teachers and role models.
My friends couldn’t wait to visit their former teachers, and most of our former teachers expressed that we made their day by reaching out. I was pleasantly surprised I didn’t need to force anyone to help me with my assignment.
So, on December 13, my pre-college friends and I revisited Clague Middle school and Huron High school, and the following week I went with my college friends from Ann Arbor to visit their favorite teacher from Burns Park Elementary School (sorry for the delay everyone involved… but at least I procrastinated long enough that I made it to teacher appreciation week).
When we walked up to Clague middle school we noticed everything looked so much smaller than how we remembered it. The walk from the bus drop off to the front entrance felt like it stretched for forever back then, but here we were taking it in a few quick strides. We recounted awkward middle school memories and we laughed them off, thankful to have evolved into who we are now.
When we walked into Linda Baskey’s room we were immediately met with the same lively energy she brought to our seventh grade math class nine years ago.
“A couple days ago I was going through my old things and I came across Michigan Daily articles from back when I was a photographer, and soon after I checked my email and I saw that (Olivia) had emailed me asking to photograph me for The Daily!” Linda Baskey remarked. My friends and I recounted later how we hadn’t realized so many of our old teachers went to Michigan as well.
Linda Baskey ’s classroom had some of the same posters we remember staring at for hours, as well as some new fun additions like decorative tire frames and flags students made addressing issues important to them.
“The kids wrote about ways to change the world for this decoration.” Linda Baskey said.
Our seventh grade Spanish teacher, Ms. Rheiher, remembered us all too well. She looked the same to us, as young as ever with her same long, flowy hair. She embraced us immediately when we walked in the room and offered us Jolly Ranchers.
She said she was disappointed we took so long to come back to visit her, but was glad we finally decided to come around. And she was prepared – she even pulled out the 2012 yearbook and we all eagerly tried to identify our younger selves.
She put us on the spot and had us perform a song in front of her class. It was one of the same songs we used to sing in seventh grade, but it had been a while, and our tone deaf, not fluent in Spanish selves struggled to keep up with the fast pace verses of Amor Prohibido.
Ms. Rheiher, happy to break from her typical class format, asked us to tell her students our majors. Most of them were not impressed, but when my friend Keemya uttered, “biopsychology cognition and neuroscience,” they oohed and aahed and said “now she is smart!”
We spent the rest of the hour having the kids do the teaching where they taught us intricate TikTok dances. Safe to say it was a productive class period.
In between bells we hurried to find Jessica Fleming, the seventh grade World Cultures and Geography and eigth grade American History teacher. When I reached out to her about this article and told her she is one of our beloved Ann Arbor teachers, she responded with excitement, saying that we made her whole career. She told us she expects her students not to remember her.
“I've always said that kids don't remember their middle school teachers,” Fleming said. ”I don't take offense, I think it is because kids that age are going through a lot.”
Although we seem to be an exception to this rule and we distinctly remember our middle school teachers, we didn’t fully realize and appreciate all that our teachers did to positively influence us when we were in the most important years of development. It was nice to be grown and talk to our old teachers like real adults.
My friends Keemya, Jack and Samy had fond memories of Fleming and of the fun times they had in her class.
“You guys were some trouble makers! Samy was so chatty… you were chatty too!” Jessica Fleming recounted while motioning to Keemya.
Keemya laughed and said, in her defense, “Well, so much drama happened in your class!”
“Yeah, there is always so much drama in my class…” Fleming said.
Next Keemya and I hustled to say hello to her former French teacher, Jennifer Quint, before her class started. Quint introduced French to Keemya in 7th grade, and Keemya has since continued to pursue French at the college level. Quint was impressed with the classes Keemya is taking and said, “I don't even know if I could do that!”
“You were so small back in the day Keemya,” Quint laughed. Keemya, standing tall and proud at 5’3”, noted that she’s still pretty small.
Continuing on, we were lucky to catch two of our previous, enthusiastic science teachers, Andrea Badel and Jeffrey Taylor, during their free period. They were in the middle of trying to reboot an old computer they had to hide because other school faculty kept trying to throw it away. They wanted to set up a computer game from 1992 we used to play on those computers. Samy joked that he was taken to the deepest part of his memory to remember that computer game.
The engineering students among my friends, Jack and Samy, reminisced on the fun and ease of middle school science class. Taylor reminded us,“‘C’s get degrees” and contrasted how earlier that week a kid in his class cried over a 22/25 on a quiz, meanwhile in college engineering classes any passing grade is celebrated.
Jeffrey Taylor was not only a great teacher, but a great basketball coach as well. Rohan reminisced about some moments that stood out to him in his roll down basketball career that Taylor coached. Rohan remembered the time he got fouled while shooting a 3-pointer and, following this, missed all three free throws, as well as when Rohan got the opportunity to be point guard and he traveled on opening possession. Rohan laughed off his struggles with basketball back in the day, and said he went on to find his place within the basketball community by being a sports reporter for the Daily.
Next, we dropped into the Clague band class as they were playing one of our old favorites (Mariachi Madness) to say hello to our former band director, James MacArthur. We were worried about disrupting his class time, but we were reassured that our presence was welcomed when he told his students, “It isn’t everyday that you’re going to have college students who survived Clague here!” He seamlessly transitioned class time to be about us, by instructing his students, “If you raise your hand and ask nicely, you can ask them whatever you’re curious about.” Their hands eagerly shot up and they asked us question after question. They ranged from what we wanted to do with our lives, to if we “always loved every minute of band” and to “which was better middle school, high school or college?” to which we answered, “It keeps getting better!”
We were lucky enough to find our former gym teacher and coach, Deborah Mullice, at the end of our middle school search. She helped my friend Melissa and I win a basketball victory neck and neck against Tappan back in the day. She also helped the women’s track team come in second in the city-wide track meet (second place was the highest possible place we could attain with the limited kids we had compared to Slauson’s massive team, who would inevitably sweep 2, 3, 4, and 5 place (which totalled more than what 1st place was worth)).
Our former middle school math and geography teacher Jeffrey Gaynor no longer teaches at Clague, but was kind enough to still meet up with us. We reflected on the variety of creative projects we had in his class, like doing a whole project on everything that a specific number represents, and how he would break the rules of preparing us for school issued exams to teach us to think creatively instead.
Gaynor has always been an environmental inspiration. He bikes everywhere he goes, never wastes any part of the apples he eats and he continues to inspire us through his progressive efforts on the Board of Education. We appreciate him for putting up with us and our middle school prank calls.
We wanted to see our old English teacher Julie Donnelly, but she had to renew her license the day we were planning on coming. Although she wasn’t photographed, she is still worth mentioning. She was the coolest teacher. She even had us annotate Eminem songs for class!
Continuing on, we drove over to Huron High School and scouted the math hallway in search of our wise and wonderful high school math teacher, Mr. Collins (who was so beloved that our class voted him to be our high school commencement speaker). Thanks to his superb calculus classes and the life lessons he taught us, he helped us survive university-level calc classes and college itself.
We were happy to find Peter Collins alone in the math lab. We sat down and made him spend his break with us. While catching up, we thanked him for preparing us for college. We recounted memories (or lack thereof), such as me falling asleep in class everyday, when he taught us how to juggle and his astute ability to shoot paper basketballs into trash cans.
Next, we dropped into Huron’s orchestra class to say hello to Keemya’s former orchestra teacher, Timothy Krohn, and her brother, Kaumyar, who plays the violin. Keemya still sees Krohn every year when she helps out at Huron band and orchestra camp. “I see so much of you and your brother, and he wouldn’t actively be in orchestra if it wasn’t for you,” Krohn said.
We were all so happy we went and properly paid tribute to all our favorite teachers and the nonsense they had to put up with. After we left, we hummed and whistled Amor Prohibido on the ride home. “Not your average day,” Rohan said.
The following week, on December 20, the last day of school before winter break, my friends Kenzie and Cammie (who are also from Ann Arbor), visited Sandra Kreger, their favorite teacher, from Burns Park Elementary school, and I tagged along. Kenzie, Cammie and Kreger have remained close over the years.
Kreger has always admired Kenzie and Cammie’s musical abilities, and over the years she has invited them to play at big events. Recently, Cammie played the ukulele at Kreger’s blood drive, and Kreger mentioned that, “she was the most requested person in that whole blood drive,” Kreger said. “She would just play this relaxing ka-plink, ka-plink, ka-plink, and then the people laying there giving blood felt better. Very sweet.”
Kreger had Kenzie play the violin at her wedding in between thunderstorms.
“We were supposed to have this lovely outdoor wedding in July and there was a tsunami with hail and...”
“It was crazy. I had never seen anything like it before,” Kenzie said.
“It ended up being fine. We all squished into this place and made a makeshift aisle, and we are just as married,” Kreger said.
When I asked Kreger to tell me what she remembers about Cammie and Kenzie from back then, she described Kenzie as very sweet, quiet, wicked smart, very artistic, very much a team player and said she “could put her in any group of kids and she would get along with everybody. She was very contemplative, and just a champion for the good.”
She described Cammie as boisterous, happy, athletic, super smart, “and I remember your ABC book assignment as being super cheery, and I remember you had really long close friendships with people then that I assume you still remain close with now.” Cammie nodded to confirm this.
Kenzie said she works with Kreger’s current students loves to hear about their experience with her.
“When I work at Camp Michigania in the summer I always check in with the kids because we have a lot of Burns Park kids that come up to camp, and I ask them who their teachers are and they grill me on every single teacher that I’ve ever had...And I always get so excited when I hear about you and just that the kids love you so much.”
“Well my goal is to just be connected for good. Like I want to go to your weddings, no rush! And you know, just in some way be connected,” Kreger said.