Denise Kuhre, Kayla Covington
Being in Mr. Mehaffy’s class saved Denise Kuhre. It was also instrumental in her decision to become an English teacher.
Kuhre was angry and sullen after her parents split up and she was forced to move to Sacramento. The divorce was bitter; she felt worse when her father remarried the mother of a student she knew. Once a stellar student, her grades plummeted at her new school. She was sick a great deal of the time and missed school. She was, in a nutshell, miserable and depressed.
There was one silver lining, and that was 10th-grade English class with Robert Mehaffy at Luther Burbank High School. During his lesson on poetry, she felt as though a window was opening in her life.
“I started writing poetry and putting my feelings about the divorce and stress of my life into the poems,” says Kuhre. “I was able to express all my sadness and other emotions in poems, as well as my hopes and dreams for the future. Poetry gave me an outlet. It kept me from going down the wrong path. Kids in my neighborhood started getting in trouble, and I was on the fringe of that.”
She asked Mr. Mehaffy to look at her poetry during lunchtime and after school.
“He was always very encouraging,” she remembers. “He always had a smile on his face. He didn’t ask me about the details of the divorce or about my personal life. He simply looked at my poetry and gave me feedback and encouragement to write more.”
Along with encouragement came good advice.
“He told me to keep every poem I had ever written, and that it didn’t matter if it was on a napkin or scrap of paper. He told me that if I felt a poem coming on I should write it down immediately, and to this day, I keep a pen with me at all times. He gave me pointers on writing; he gave me a thesaurus. He treated me as an adult and a fellow writer. And although he was busy, he never said, ‘I don’t have time to talk to you today.’”
Her grades went up. She started thinking about college. She continued writing poetry.
She doesn’t know what became of her former teacher, although she tried to find him a few years ago to say thank you. When she publishes a book of poetry someday, she will dedicate it to him.
Now the Livermore Education Association member is a teacher at Joe Michell K-8 School and teaches sixth-grade English and social studies. She makes time for poetry. She also makes time for students.
“If someone is having difficulties at home or with friendships, I talk to them. I encourage every student to learn what his or her gift is. And if can help that student find their gift while they are in my classroom, I know I’m a successful teacher. I feel that I’m paying Mr. Mehaffy back for what he gave me.”