Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fer Cryin Outloud...Mr. Gionet

"Fer Cryin Out Loud"  - R.I.P. Mr. Gionet    August 8, 2015

As many teachers and students are excitedly heading back to school,  it gives me pause for thought about the teachers that influenced my life over the years.  The first person that comes to mind is my 9th grade World Cultures teacher, Mr. Gionet.   He was new to the school that year, all of the girls were crushing on his handsome good looks.  To say that he was tough on his students, in many cases, is an under statement.  Though I have to say that he is one of the most respected and loved teachers. 

One of Mr. Gionet's favorite sayings was "Fer Cryin' Out Loud"....  as well as "Don't do anything stupid!"  There are many more Gionet-isms to list. 

Mr. Gionet was the first teacher that took the time to recognize that even though I am a different kind of learner, that if I applied myself that I would succeed.  There was one particular day in Mr. Gionet's class that changed my life.  He had given us an assignment which was an oral presentation in front of our classmates.  We were to give a 2 minute talk where we had to either make something, or explain how something was made.  Of course the thought of me standing up in front of my peers, and actually speaking intelligently petrified me.  I never was very good at public speaking, but it is a skill that Mr. Gionet felt was important.   At the time,  I was horrified at the idea.

I blush very easily, and when I am nervous or scared I talk really fast.   Think of  "deer in the headlights" personified.   Rather than face certain humiliation and embarrassment,  I opted to take a failing grade and not do the assignment.   That wasn't good enough for Mr. Gionet.   He asked me to step out into the hall, which was reserved for really bad kids.  When he was finished talking to the rest of the class, he came out into the hall to talk to me.  He asked me what I thought I was doing.  He said that my refusal to do the assignment was not acceptable, and that he expected me to show up the next day.  He was not going to allow me to fail.

Mr. Gionet coached track and football in Snohomish.

Despite the stern look on his face, I knew that he cared.  He and I talked for a few minutes about the disruption I had made in class and that he believed I had a lot more potential than I was showing him.
He expected me to be prepared for class the next day, and he didn't care what my talk was on, but I was going to do it.

I went home that night and told my Mom that I needed to have some sort of THING to do that I could explain how it was made in 2 minutes.  We decided that I would bake some scones to take to class and explain to the other classmates how they are part of my heritage.   We baked the scones the night before and I wrote my talk on the index card Mr. Gionet gave me.

The next day rolled around and I was nervous as heck.  I could tell my cheeks were flushed, and as my luck would have it,  Mr. Gionet called me up to his desk.  He sat at the back of the class and all eyes were on me while I began my talk.  I could feel my voice starting to shutter, cheeks bright red, and I began talk faster.  If you think 2 minutes isn't very long, wait until you're giving a talk.  It felt like forever. The only face I remember in the group of classmates was Alan Schoeban.  He was smiling at me the whole time, which actually helped me not be so nervous.  When I was done,  I uncovered the pans of fresh made scones.  Of course all of the student's eyes lit up because they got to eat in class.  Mr. Gionet let them dig in, and he came over to me and told me I did a good job.  He said he was proud of me.  The best part, I got an A.  Not an A+,  but just an A.   He said I didn't get an A+ because I had talked a little too fast. :)    I can live with an A.   After the presentations were over and the classmates had ate.... Alan Davis and Brad McDaniel came up to me and said that they liked my food.

The rest of the school year,  I worked harder and better.  Not just for Mr. Gionet, but for myself.

I moved on the high school and graduated with my class.  I had the opportunity a few times to see Mr. Gionet, as he had moved up to the high school to teach Government and History.  No matter how long of a time it was since you were in his class, he always knew you by name and had a thoughtful comment.  He expected his students to be prepared, to act responsibly, and to do our best.

Over a year ago,  I had heard that Mr. Gionet had cancer.  There is a group that was set up on Facebook for his current and former classmates to send him messages and keep up with him.  It was amazing to see how many people across the country knew of him, and thought the world of him and his family.   At one point, I wondered if he knew just how many people loved him and thought the world of him.  Many of us followed the page faithfully to see if there was any news on Mr. Gionet's health.  He continued to teach and coach (track and football) while undergoing treatment.  I've talked to classmates who had seen him during this time, and he was business as usual.  He never let anything get him down. That didn't really surprise me because that was the kind of person he was.

I had gotten in touch with his wife a couple weeks ago to get their home address as I wanted to send him a card to let him know that he had a profound impact on my life, and that the work I now, and my work ethic, has a lot to do with him.

I sit here writing this post with tears in my eyes because I didn't get the chance to say the things to Mr. Gionet that I wanted to. With a heavy heart...On August 8th, Mr. Gionet passed away.  I chose today to write this post because his memorial service is this afternoon at Snohomish High School.  I'm not able to fly back to attend, but I wanted my friends and followers to know what a great teacher I had.

(This picture was taken outside of SHS, where a memorial was posted at the big tree in honor of Mr. Gionet. Students came from all over the country to honor him today).

Mr. Gionet wasn't just a teacher.  He was a mentor, and friend to so many.   He didn't just stand in front of the classroom dictating facts and info, he was a part of our learning.  He wanted his students to THINK, and to really dig deep and learn.  He lived the lessons he taught, and set the bar really high. Not just because he could, but because he knew that we could all reach it.  It was an honor and privilege to be his student.

This is a picture of the note that Mr. Gionet had posted to his podium in his classroom.  I saved this picture because I believe that these are words that we could all live by.

So long, Mr. Gionet.  I imagine that the fishing is pretty good in Heaven.

Until we meet again.

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