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A teacher’s salute to his mentors

Marin Independent Journal,

Marin Voice June 20, 2001

Thomas A. Thompson

IN 19741 began my first year of teaching at Terra Linda High School, a time enriched by the opportunity to work with experienced teachers who influenced me a great deal with their advice and by their example. This year, sadly, the very last of that group are leaving the profession to which they have brought so much. Barry Amsden, Pat Skinner and Pete Paolino, very much part of the fabric of TLHS, its identity and tradition, will be missed.

As his assistant coach, I remember well Barry Amsden’s remarkable ability to enthuse and encourage each member of the track team to reach for his or her personal bests. With stopwatch in hand, he would often sprint joyfully alongside a young runner during his or her final stretch down the track. From Barry I learned the value and reward of coaching kids whether in athletics or other extra-curricular activities.

Throughout the years, Barry Amsden has maintained his bounding energy and enthusiasm for kids and their achievements. His positive spirit has animated the students he has taught, the athletes he has coached and all the many colleagues with whom he has worked. They will miss his generosity, his knowledge of Terra Linda High’s history, his stories and even his jokes.

As a first-year English teacher, I remember passing Pat Skinner’s room hours after the final bell and  seeing him sitting behind his desk painstakingly correcting his students’ essays. From Mr. Skinner I learned the worth of inviting students to exceed their own expectations.

Mr. Skinner’s classes have been a rite of passage at Terra Linda. The most demanding of teachers, he has consistently pushed his students to read challenging works of literature and to think and write with clarity, coherence and correctness. Always, he insisted on providing students with an enriching intellectual experience, one that reverberates, that is appreciated even more in retrospect.

And I remember Peter Paolino’s consistent patience and kindness in counseling or comforting students who were having a difficult time emotionally, socially or academically. As a first-year teacher, I learned from my dealings with Peter an appreciation of the complexity of the individuals in my classroom.

In his nearly 40 years of service, Mr. Paolino has been a competent and compassionate advocate for several thousand kids in helping them make a more successful transition through adolescence and the various demands of high-school life.

Other excellent teachers with more than 25 years of experience — Bill Costello, Bill Monti, Bret Tovani, Dave Wylie, Dolores Pena and Monika Nimeh of San Rafael High — are retiring this year.

As are many others who have been teaching since before 1970— Bill Allen, Peter Schmidt, Lorraine Coppola, Justin Kielty, Lala Zuniga-Briggs of Davidson I Middle School; Jan Armour, Mary Breeze and Pat Geiger of Glenwood Schdol; Barb Dittman, Gay Leonardi and Doug Taylor of San Pedro School; and Marcia McQuillan and Linda Newton of Gallinas SchooL They deserves kudos, as do others like them in other school districts.

What make their deserving tributes a bit sadder this year is a growing awareness that having people in our schools with their tenure of experience may be a thing of the past, that schools in Marin may be losing the real benefit of such teachers who were able to dedicate their entire careers to particular school communities.

The cost of housing in Mann and its corollary, the long commute, may make teachers who make their careers here members of a vanishing species. And that, indeed, is very sad.

Thomas A. Thompson is a teacher at Mann Catholic High School and is a member of the San Rafael City School Board.