Online Exclusive: MSJ Gives Thanks – Teacher Extension

“When I first got to Mission San Jose High School, and it was the Class of 2008 graduating, the graduation was a really good one, it was about 115 degrees, but kids brought with them hundreds of like inflatable things, beach balls, anything you can imagine that was inflatable, and blew those up while they were sitting in the graduation sitting area and threw them all around. It was kind of chaotic and some of the things they inflated and threw around were inappropriate, we’ll just leave it at that. The next year’s class was my senior class, the Class of 2009. All year long I was like, “We can’t have another graduation like that,” because at the time the superintendent and the board members there were like, “This was not good. This was really not a good thing.” I didn’t want Mission to have that reputation again, so I talked to certain kids all year long that I would see, “Nothing at graduation, come on you guys, nothing. Spread the word to your friends. Your friends are probably the kind that might bring something. Tell them ‘nothing.'” I also went around to every Gov./Econ. class to talk to them about the year and what they were going to accomplish, the future, and I also asked them, “Please don’t bring anything to graduation, which could be total invitation to bring things or not.” During the ceremony, nothing was thrown around; it was during the name-calling. I was off to the side, and the police officer at the time, Officer Martinez, came up to me and she said, “Hey, the back row over there, of kids, they want you to come over. So I go over there and it was all these guys that probably could have brought things, and they were like, “See? We didn’t bring anything and nothing’s here,” so that was really cool because I felt like they, you know, listened to me. And then for the Class of 2014, I really didn’t want them to do any prank to the school before graduation, so I had talked to them, same thing, “Please don’t do any pranks. If you toilet paper the school or do anything to mess it up, then the people that are earning minimum wage are the ones that end up cleaning it up and it takes all their time. It’s really not a good situation.” So they kinda didn’t really say anything, not too much. And then all of a sudden in my mailbox, on the last Monday of school, I got a note that said, “There will be a flood.” And that’s all it said, so I was like, “Great.” So I let the custodians at night know, I let our little security patrol that comes around at night know like, “Just keep an eye out, I don’t know what that means, you know.” And then the last day of school, which was the day of their graduation, the flood was that they flooded my mailbox there with notes of appreciation and stuff, so that was really cool. It reminds me just how amazing all the kids here are.” – Principal Zack Larsen


“You can see right here, all over the place, is that I keep every thank you card that I got. This cup is all thank you’s and cards [are] in this drawer. And so, I’ve been here for 10 years, seven as a teacher and this is my third as an administrator and I still have all the thank you’s from my first year. And my favorite part, one of my favorite things of the job, is getting cards. And I remember as a teacher I got a lot more gifts and stuff, but my favorite thing were always the cards because it makes me feel like, alright, I did something right. And so, I always keep them, and, I thought it would be kinda neat if you wanted to take a picture of like all the cards displayed out. So it’s not any one kid, I have kids that I keep in touch with, and I see them kind of grow up on Facebook. It’s kind of weird seeing someone you taught for sophomore World History getting married, and having their own jobs, and graduating from college so that’s wonderful.

I have so many examples. I have one kid that I worked with, I taught him his junior year and we bonded a lot over sports . . . and he went to my alma mater, Nevada, and so we kind of kept in touch. He has graduated from Nevada now and working in the Bay Area again. I kind of mentored him growing up. He’s someone I’ve kept that connection with over the years. Really, my thought for this story was just about the memories that I keep and also sorts of thank you’s. I can’t throw it out. I have a whole box at home that has thank-you cards inside of it and stuff. So I coached football here and I coached softball here, and all the pictures and thank-yous at the end of the year, I kept all that stuff. I’m very clean at home, and I don’t like clutter—you can see my desk is very clean—but I’m a horror when it comes to that stuff, I like that stuff and reflecting on those good times. So yeah, that would be my story. During my internship, when I was a student-teacher here, I had a couple of classes that were awesome classes, in fact, my very first year as student-teacher here, still some of those kids that are now grown-up in their mid-20s and they have careers now. That was probably the first time, but it’s just nice to get that. It’s the best part, that you realize that what you’ve done—what makes it worth it for any of us as educators—is that you’ve done something right and made a difference.

Yeah, [I look back at these cards,] especially when I’ve been having a bad day or a bad week or something like that, I have them all right here in front of me. It just kinds of makes me reflect, and then when I put them away i put new ones up and take some old ones down. I can look at them and ‘Oh yeah, I remember that.’ Some of these kids made this one with stuff in the garden and it’s kinda neat. Me and a couple of kids like five years ago started a garden here at the vandal watchhouse site, and they’ve now taken over it and it’s grown a little bit since then. I’m happy for them now. Well, that’s kind of another story, we’ve already done a story on that in the Smoke Signal. So that was just my thoughts when I saw the thing about thanks, ‘Oh yeah, I’d like to share some of my cards, I’m a kind of hoarder of them.’ Not only do I like getting them, I also like giving them. I like to give them out to people, I’m big on that writing it down, it’s so easy nowadays to text ‘Hey thanks’ or on Facebook, but there’s still something about writing it down. Last month was National Custodial Day, so I wrote every single custodian a thank-you card for the work that they do and personalized every single one because it’s so much more when it’s personalized and so much time and effort into doing it than just thumbs-up, and thank-you emoji.” – Assistant Principal Jeff Evans


“He was my student for freshman and sophomore year. He took Chinese 3 and AP Chinese. At home, he didn’t speak Chinese, he spoke Cantonese. He was very hard working, whenever there was a project, he always started early and did it very well. He got a 5 on the AP Chinese test because he was so hardworking. Around half of the Cantonese speakers [who take the AP class at MSJ] get a 4, but he got a 5. After the AP test, he helped out at Open House. He was serious about everything he did. After the AP test was over, I thought he would not come by and say hi anymore. But this student, every day before read, he would come [to my room] and talk with me. He is now a junior, and he would talk about his classes, his stressful life, and hard classes. It’s kind of like a bonding, him telling me his feelings, almost every day he comes and talks with me or studies Chinese with me. He talked to me in Chinese, I taught him, and I taught him Chinese history. Chinese history is very interesting, and he studied Classical Chinese literature because he is very interested. I was very happy, because I taught him and inspired him. It is very rewarding because i inspired him so he would keep researching and learning Chinese. When I first started, I did not expect he would do so well. I pushed him and he did better, and I pushed him and he did even better. He is a reminder that you can do better and do the extra mile. I thank him because he is an example that a teacher’s effort is rewarding. I spend so much time teaching him, and he appreciates my teaching, and that makes me very happy. Every teacher knows that not all the students will like you. You just need one or two students to show appreciation to keep learning, and that is enough to make you happy.” – Chinese Teacher Yung-Fang (Cynthia) Chiu


“The first [story] . . . takes a little bit of explanation I don’t know how you can pull it off in the article. But, I frequently threaten my students with Jethro. Jethro is the bogeyman. Whenever my students ask me a question like what happens if I can’t get it done on time. Well, if you can’t get it done on time, you can’t pass my class. Then you do have to graduate, you do have to pass all 4 years of English to graduate from high school, and if [you] don’t graduate from high school, you never are going to get into a good college, and then you are going to end up living on the street, addicted to drugs and married to a guy named Jethro. So, it becomes this whole litany, right. He is the bogeyman, the abstract threat I hold over students when they ask me some silly question about what happens if I don’t do this. So you fail my class and end up on the street addicted to drugs. So I got this whole Jethro spiel all right. So . . . I think it was the year I taught juniors. And then the next year one of my students that I taught as a junior graduated, she came back and gave me the poster over there. So, it’s a print of the Golden Gate bridge and it says, be specific or else and then it goes through at least part of my litany. And so I took the trouble, she just made the poster, I had it framed. But she took the trouble to make me this poster and it’s a message that I am always trying to tell my students that they have to be specific, they have to support what they are arguing. I don’t care you know necessarily what they say as long as they can support it with evidence. So that serves now as my reminder to my students and it references my litany that I threaten them with Jethro. Every year I get students, they hear about Jethro and they always wonder, Who is Jethro? Who is Jethro? It’s the bogeyman and it’s the guy that I threaten my students with and that poster. I was very touched that a student had made, taken the trouble to be creative enough to make a poster that reinforces the kind of thing I do in my class. That’s one thing!

The other story is I had a student in my sophomore year that when she came to my class she didn’t have a very good freshman year. A teacher who is no longer here at Mission. He was only there for one year and he honestly didn’t do a very good job, didn’t know how to go about his job yet. He was so new, he struggled and he wasn’t very inspiring and she was this kind of disappointed with her writing skill and she came to my class. She was really happy with what we did in my class and I kept talk with her throughout her junior year and she would come back and visit and tell me how she was doing. She was really excited about her junior year English class. Same thing senior year really excited about her senior year English class. She took AP English and she would come back and visit me and touch base with how she was doing once in awhile, and she was very enthusiastic. She applied to Harvard and she did not get accepted but she was put on a waitlist and so some of her teachers and I put together an appeal letter for her and then she ended up getting accepted. So I am very proud, very happy for her and she came and thanked me. But, then she also wrote me a very long sincere letter—the sort of thing that makes teachers remember why they do what they do. The long hours of grading and the planning they do . . . oftentimes the thanks, it’s years down the road. A lot of times students will remember something that they got from a teacher ten years down the road, but they never hear about it because they have already gone on, married with their own kids. When we do get those timely thank you’s, it is as important to us as when students get a timely grade back on a test or an essay and then they can start to realize this is why I did well and this is why. If it is not timely, they kinda forget about why, right? And the fact that this student came by, after she wrote me that letter, she also came by and talked to me in person about it right before graduation and I was just touched at the time to explain not only in writing but to come personally and tell me the things we had done in my class that impacted her, that inspired her and she continued to use in her junior year and senior year and she felt really helped increase her language skills. So, I think that what students don’t realize sometimes, not all the time, they don’t realize that teachers get heavily invested in whether or not we are successful with our students and when we find out, you know, once in a while we have had an impact it recharges our batteries. And lacking that the job is really, it gets onerous. There is a lot of the good parts about teaching are really good, but there is a lot of drudgery too. No one wants to stay and take home a stack of papers and kill a weekend grading, but when you do, it’s in the hopes that you are helping someone achieve their dreams when you do get that feedback, it makes all the difference in the world.” – English Teacher John Boegman


“Years ago, there was a student on campus with a physical handicap who had to use a scooter to get around campus. I knew that this senior was not able to afford a prom bid but really wanted to go. I arranged to have two tickets for him and went to present them in one of his classes. He was touched but I also said he would need to find his own way to the event. I could tell this troubled him and he said his parents might not be able to get him there.

A big strong football player who overheard this leaned over and told this student, ‘Don’t worry, you can come with us.’ This football player was a very popular student and he reassured the senior that he would accommodate the student and whoever he wanted to bring in their limo. I did not think about it again until I was at the Senior Ball and I saw the long line of limousines pulling up to the to the curb at the Academy of Science in San Francisco.

I watched as the football player got out, reached back inside and gently lifted the other student out of the car. I was touched to see that he carried him happily and easily to the front of the line.

Later that night at the event I also witnessed the player carrying the student from level to level and they all hung out even dancing together as a group. At the end of the night the football player carried the very tired senior back to the limo as his head drooped from exhaustion. I was touched by the kindness of one our students who created a memorable event for one of our physically handicapped students.” – Campus Supervisor Brandi Speier


Mr. Thomsen’s poem:

“It’s late at night, and my thoughts turn to you.”

Coach, my thoughts turn to you too.

In the stillness of the early hours

When I’m too stressed, too tired to sleep,

When I want to give into the temptation of self-pity,

I can’t.

I remember why I keep going

Day by day,

i remember your lessons on the amat.

You talk about adversity,

How it’s one of the best tests

To measure the Soul of Man.

I agree, but I have something to add.

How you treat your people,

How you take care of us

Even though you don’t have to.

Your sense of obligation.

That’s the life test.

Coach, you passed it.

You taught me how to pass it too.


I’m stubborn and I’m blind.

I only learn the hard way.

Whether you understand that or not.

You have the formula.

You made me find my qualities, showed me

how to recognize them,

How to harness them,

How to live them.

In the depths and the darkness

Of the River of Despair

You pulled me out into sunlight

Pulled me out by the hair.

It hurt.

But when I choked up the water,

I breathed easily again.

Out of the murky depths,

Unstuck from the tar and sludge,

I saw clearly again.

You didn’t give up on me

When I gave up on myself.

How could i give up on you?

So I came back for my medicine,

My wrestling fix.


Loyalty comes easily to me,

But Trust doesn’t.

I’m loyal because completion

Despite fear, despite pain,

Is Honor.

But I’m loyal to wrestling

Because I trust you.

I lent you my secrets.

You were loyal to me too.

But most importantly,

You gave me wrestling, a glue

And with that:

Self confidence, Family, Perspective.

Now I know that

Hard Work takes us to greatness

Family gets us through pain

Fun never died, but talent does.

So grasp opportunity.

Wait for reward.


It is perverse

That I crave Hard Work’s Punishment?

That I  love the musky smell of sweat

The dinginess of knee pads

not washed nearly enough?

The joy of conquering,

Physical stamina from hours of drilling,

instinct from hours of mat-time,

Mental iron from getting up

From bottom-rock bottom?

After four years of wrestling,

I feel lost,

I miss the beat of forty hearts

thrumming as one.

I miss winning

One on one combat

Simply because I worked harder,

Worked longer than they.

That’s the root of the core,

The pitch of the bone of wrestling.

Dedication. Time. Heart,

There is no other way to define

Heaven and Hell rolled into one.


You saved me, Coach.

You saved us.

For that, I thank you.

I never forget.”

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