The Blog

Revisiting Mr Keener

For the December issue, I needed a teacher for Point/Counterpoint who would defend parent donations to help cash-strapped school districts. My hometown, Brisbane, had an educational foundation of which I was once president, so I asked the Brisbane Teachers Association president if someone might be willing to speak on this topic. I was delighted when she said Steve Keener would fill in – and not only because I had found someone to fill a badly needed spot in the magazine.

Mr. Keener was the fifth-grade teacher for my daughter, Nicole, 20 years ago. He was her favorite teacher. When I walked into his classroom for the first time in two decades, I was struck by how much he looked the same, except for some gray hair. (Of course, thanks to Lady Clairol, he can’t say the same for me.)

And he remembered Nicole. Perhaps, since he was a first-year teacher when he taught my daughter, he remembers most of the students from that year. Nicole was and still is chatty, vivacious, enthusiastic and a quick learner.

Before we talked business, we took some time to catch up. He looked at Nicole’s wedding photos and I looked at photos of his family. He told me how he met his wife, a speech language pathologist at school, and showed me pictures of his kids. I had to laugh; Nicole and her friends were always plotting to fix him up with a single female teacher at the school site, worried that he might be an eternal bachelor.

I showed him a note that Nicole had asked me to share with him. It read:

Hi Mr. Keener, I would first like to start off and say that you have an incredible memory and I am so honored to know that you remember me. You were absolutely a favorite teacher and made a wonderful impact on my education and childhood. Favorite memories would have to be Star of the Week, the Raisin dancing and the slamming of the desks, when you gave the sign.

I am currently 29, married and a Marriage and Family Therapist. I work as the Family Services Manager and Mental Health Manager of a nonprofit organization, called Health Right 360; formerly known as Walden House. I help the most challenging populations in San Francisco with their intense trauma histories, substance abuse, mental health and family issues, CPS cases, court hearings etc.

I am still best friends with Ana. Do you remember her?

Hope you are living an incredible life and just know that you impact your students for a lifetime - you are truly a fantastic teacher and human being. -- Nicole

Mr. Keener was moved that his former student remembered him so kindly and that he had made such a positive impact on her life. He recalled that it was a time when teaching and learning were fun, before NCLB and high-stakes testing changed everything.

Seeing Mr. Keener and walking the halls of my children’s elementary school brought back a lot of memories, most of them good. Volunteering, parent-teacher conferences and seeing my children fly out the door and race across the playground into my arms seemed like yesterday.

I also gave thanks that they were able to attend such a great public school district. It’s funny, but lots of Brisbane parents feared sending their kids to this school located in a working-class community and opted for private school or transfers to surrounding wealthier districts. That never entered my mind.

I still keep in touch with some of these parents and it’s funny, but over the years, most of their children fared no better than mine. Few went on to attend college. Some of their offspring have yet to find a vocation. Others suffered from isolation because they did not attend school with the neighborhood kids and went on to have, shall we say, personality problems that might have come about because they were told they were “too good” for their local school. I don’t want to brag, but one of my kids earned her master’s and another just completed a four-year apprenticeship program in the building trades. Both are self-supporting, happy adults. Thank you, Brisbane Elementary School District.

Today, the same issues continue in my community. Parents still transfer their kids out to the wealthy districts and schlep their kids to private school. Some started a charter high school because they are worried the local public high school in Pacifica isn’t “good enough” for their kids.

If I had it to do all over again, I would still send my kids to Brisbane School district. It’s a great school where wonderful teachers like Mr. Keener truly make a difference in young lives.  It may be a cliché, but the best schools are often right in our own back yards. In my little town, that was definitely true.       

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