Over my many years in education, I’ve been blessed to work alongside and learn from so many dedicated teachers across the curriculum, but I’m especially grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to share my love for literature and composition with an array of talented and passionate English teachers. Among them, I include Gary Kelley, Chris Ceccoli, Margaret Phillips, Julie Quayle, Jenna Kline, Annie Head, Matt Fujita, Lori Scalf and my current English Department stablemates at PCHS: Catherine Haskins, Joe Miller, and Jim Lamb.
Because I teach primarily seniors, by the time our students get to me, batting cleanup, I have some very tough acts to follow (Please, excuse the mixing of the baseball and drama-based metaphors.). In fact, when the school year begins, I kind of feel like the new stepparent, the one who the children hold responsible for the absence of their preferred parent. The students’ antagonistic stares scream, “You’re not Mr. Lamb!”
Among the many talented English teachers with whom I have been honored to work, in recent years, I have especially grown in admiration for Karen Ferdinandsen, or Mrs. Ferd, as she is referred to affectionately by all. Fulfilling the role of department chairperson is difficult in any academic discipline as educators are typically fiercely-independent thinkers and protective of their own ways and domains, but it is doubly-difficult in a department full of flighty English majors. By the very nature of our chosen field, English teachers tend to be creative types, who do not surrender easily to leadership, conformity, or even common sense. Loath to be herded, we are the proverbial cats of any faculty. For over a decade now, however, Karen has somehow managed to corral us without bruising egos and to wrangle us towards the greater goals and necessary expectations of our bosses and school community at-large while allowing us to preserve our uniqueness and protecting us from having to deal with added mundane responsibilities that she tends to for us. I like to refer to Karen as our den mother.
The mother metaphor is especially apt for Karen, especially ever since she has switched primarily to teaching freshmen. Whereas, I am much too brash, demanding, and impatient to ever teach a classroom full of emotionally and intellectually-insecure fourteen-year olds, Karen is just the right mixture of warmth, understanding, discipline, and fair expectations. The vast majority of her students sincerely love Karen, and when I hear them call her “Mrs. Ferd,” it’s in the same tone as children say “Mom.”
I also like the word “mother” in application to Karen because encased in it is the word “other,” and in all of my life, outside of my own mother, I have never known anyone who places such high emphasis on others’ needs. Whether caring for her and Mike’s parents; performing small acts of kindness for fellow faculty members; bending over backwards to help the neediest of students to stay on track and earn passing grades – often giving up much of her own precious planning time just to talk or, more accurately, allow them to talk; or staying in intimate contact and commemorating important life events with innumerable former students, Karen is the living embodiment of giving.
I sincerely love and respect this woman. Against the still pervasive headwinds of both blatant and tacit sexism, she has never backed down and has forged a life and career worthy of imitation by all of the youths she serves: females and males.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention Karen’s life partner and husband, Mike. If another couple exists who are more suited for one another or who have truly achieved the goal of being married to your best friend, I have yet to meet them. An elementary teacher, Mike matches Karen in their love of travel, the Cleveland Browns, light gambling, family, friends, and teaching. The are one of my favorite couples.
Port Clinton and the world, in general, are better places because Karen courageously chose to leave the world of restaurant management and take her talents into the classroom. I know for certain that I am a better person having Karen as a colleague and friend.
It has been my absolute pleasure to share a hallway and love of teaching with Mrs. Ferd for over twenty years, and I plan to treasure the precious and few we have remaining together.
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