“This” Generation

I’ve been a teacher for almost 40 years. I am as old as dirt and have been working with teenagers (or mothering them) for probably half my life. So I think I can say with some authority and experience that, yes, young people today are dealing with far more stress than I ever experienced as a child, or than the teenagers I worked with 30 years ago ever dealt with.

My sons were 9 and 7 when 9-11 happened – old enough to understand and remember and incorporate that into their history. School shootings have become so common now that they’ve actually invented bullet-proof shelters for classrooms. Bullying on social media is not something the people of my generation EVER had to deal with. The anxieties and stresses of the young people I work with are very real. They’ve lost friends to suicide. They’ve lost friends to drug overdoses. I’ve had at least two students whose fathers were deported to Mexico – and they may never see their fathers again.

To smugly stereotype an entire generation, and to discount their very real struggles, seems ignorant and uninformed to me.

If children are speaking out against bullying – against bigotry and hate and sexism and racism and homophobia – well, good for them! That’s not being “PC” – that’s not being “whiney” – that’s being brave.

I’ll Never Forget You

I retire from teaching this week. I’ve been clearing out my space at school and came upon some notes and messages from my days as a teacher at Allen and Edison and West View that have brought tears to my eyes – I’m getting all choked up here. I have been blessed with such wonderful students in my career – kind and courageous and dear. I want to share some of what I’ve found this week – I want my students to know that their notes and kind words and art have stayed with me and meant a lot to me. I’ll never forget you. 


The “Lasts”

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
– Dr. Seuss

This week I’ve found myself being conscious of all the “lasts” – the last time I’ll ever do an algebra problem with a student; the last time I’ll do symmetrical art with a student; the last time I’ll teach a student how to recognize when a paragraph can be split into two; the last time I’ll talk about trench warfare, and the drummer boys in the Civil War, and why civilizations start around rivers; the last time I’ll say good-bye to my students at the end of a school year…


A Waltz in the Park

(I originally published this on the Bellingham Bay Blog – but I thought it might fit well here, too. :))

Something really magical happened in Bellingham this morning – actually, many magical things happened in Bellingham this morning, but let’s start with THIS one:

As I was walking along the shore in Boulevard Park I looked across the green and saw a man on the other side, in the parking lot, moving in a way that made me think he was maybe doing tai chi. I love how people move when they’re doing tai chi and I’d like to learn how to do that myself – so I started trying to follow his movements – I raised my arm when he raised his arm, I turned when he turned – and at some point he recognized what I was doing and we smiled at each other across the park. When I walked around the park to the other side I thanked him and then… I’m not sure how this happened, exactly – but the next thing I knew he’d raised his hand to mine and we were dancing! In the parking lot. At Boulevard Park. That’s what he’d been doing all along – he’d been dancing! I could hear the music then – it sounded like an Asian waltz – I know I’m not explaining this well, but… the notes were D, F, G, B flat, G… for those of you who have a scale in your head. (“A Scale in Your Head” would make a great title for a book, wouldn’t it?)

It was cosmic!. We danced around the parking lot for a few minutes. And then I thanked him – he smiled – I don’t think he spoke English – and let me take a picture of us together.

I was still thinking about my waltz in the park when I got to the parking lot above the boardwalk. And then this deer walked across the road – and a little spotted fawn suddenly appeared, too, skipping along behind her. All of us who were walking along the road just stopped and watched them pass. “Well, THAT was magic,” I said. And this man smiled at me and said, “Isn’t that a great way to start the day?!”

And there was an eagle – soaring right above me! And… and… well, here are some pictures from my morning…
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

Graduation Night

(Last night.)
Graduation at Emerson tonight. I was asked to give the commencement speech, and I also got to sing “In My Life” with some of my musical staff friends. I was so proud of all the students – they all worked so hard to get here! And their speeches had me in tears.

Here are excerpts from my speech (I got all teary and half-way through my husband had to come up to the podium to provide me with a tissue for my nose – bless his heart):

At the end of this school year I will be leaving my job as a Contract Based teacher at Emerson High School. When I look back on the seven years I’ve spent here, images of my students flash through my thoughts – images that make me smile and touch my heart.

There’s Anastacio learning what an exponent is – and there he is, grinning with pride, the day he learned he’d (finally!) passed his state math assessment.

There are my student-authors glowing with the joy of accomplishment at seeing their words published on Amazon and in print. I see the looks on my students’ faces when they see their photography published in our student calendar – and they realize that, yes, they actually ARE real photographers!

I remember the time one of my students was looking at a picture of an embryonic turtle, seeing how its shell forms from its rib cage, and she said, “I never thought about that before – turtles can’t just leave their shells, can they? But some things do. Those sea snails. They leave their shells. How’s the shell formed?” I suggested to her that maybe she could do some research about that. Maybe she could research, like, five different things like that and write papers about them. I asked her what other things she might want to research. She thought about this and then said, “How does the moon affect waves? Why does the river have a current? Why do trees lose their leaves? How do the clouds stay in the sky? Why does water evaporate? Are there other planets that are liveable? When does space end? What would be beyond space? What did we think about before we were born? How do tectonic plates move? Maybe 90% of the ocean we haven’t even explored, yet – what new things have they found in the ocean lately?

I told her I loved ending my Friday with her. She smiled and said, “It’s a good way to end the week, isn’t it?”

My students have made me laugh, and sometimes made me cry, too – in a good way. I remember the time a student and I were working through a problem on probability that involved colored marbles. At the end of the problem she observed that we still had all our marbles. “I still have all my marbles?!” I asked, kind of surprised. Without missing a beat, my student said, “For now.” I laughed so hard I had tears pouring down my face.

I want to take a moment and say something about each of the graduates here tonight. You are the reason we’re all here. We celebrate you. You have inspired us. You have given us hope for the world. Dear graduates – here are what your teachers have to say about you – and please stand as I call your name… (I’m going to edit this part out for the privacy of the students – but let me just say how cool it is to work in a school where there’s time to recognize each and every student’s achievements and talents at graduation).

I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to Sharon, too. Sharon and I are both retiring this year. Sharon, I want you to know how grateful I am to you. You kept me organized. You stepped up to the plate when no one else would. I have huge respect for you.

And I need to say a word about my CB colleagues, Kay and Elizabeth – you are both such an inspiration to me. I’ve seen how you’ve gone above and beyond for your students. I’ve witnessed how much you care. I love you.

And the rest of you are great, too! 

My years at Emerson have given me wonderful memories and friendships that will always be with me. Emerson has provided me so many amazing opportunities: My first year here I was invited to go snow-shoeing with the students for a weekend; another year I was invited to drive a van full of students to the Seattle Science Center; and another year I got to sail aboard a schooner, The Adventuress, with my Emerson colleagues. These are experiences I never would have had if I hadn’t come to Emerson seven years ago.

What makes Emerson special, of course, is the people here – the students and staff. We take care of each other in times of crises. We celebrate with each other in times of victory. We care about each other, and for each other. We are a family.

And now I’d like to read some excerpts from Max Ehrmann’s poem, “Desiderata” – this poem has never failed to inspire me:


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others…

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. 

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time…

But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself. 

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy. 

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

golden sunrise

Running for School Board

So what happened was… one day during lunch I walked down to the courthouse in the drizzle, squeeked my way across the lobby (my shoes decided to show off to the long line of people waiting to get their vehicles registered), and announced to the ladies behind the election counter that I was going to run for office. They smiled and pointed to the next office over, and there I was greeted by the mother of one of my former students who asked me (and how did she know?!) if I was going to run for school board. She set me up in front of a little computer, I typed in my name and pushed a couple buttons, and – just like that! – I was a candidate!

Here’s my statement for the voter’s pamphlet:
I’ve been a teacher in Skagit County’s schools since my husband and I moved here 34 years ago. I taught in the Burlington-Edison School District from 1992-2012. For the last seven years I’ve taught at Emerson, a nonprofit alternative high school in Mount Vernon. Recently, I wrote a health supplement on teen drug abuse for an educational publishing company. Working for the publishing company gave me an opportunity to recognize the challenges students and teachers face today in education.

As an educator my mission has been to help my students build a solid foundation of knowledge and skills they can bring with them into the future; and to help them see the power they have to make the world a better place. I retired from teaching in spring of 2019. I’d like to bring my teaching experience with me to the Burlington-Edison school board.

Our sons are Burlington-Edison graduates. I appreciate the dedication of the teachers who gave them the skills they need to achieve their goals in life. I’d like the opportunity to give back to the teachers of Burlington-Edison now, and to support our young people, by serving on the school board.