Thursday, December 21, 2006


Mr. Schwantes (Ken) was a teacher at Washington High School. I had him during my senior year for some sort of psychology or sociology class. I think it was sociology actually. But I think he may have also taught some history classes to freshman and sophomores. I know he did teach freshman. I never had him as a freshman though.

I believe that for many years, Schwantes had a Rollie Fingers-type moustache. But during my senior year, I don't think he had it anymore.

Schwantes was a popular guy. In fact, he may have been the most popular teacher in school. Why? Becasue he would talk about anything. And he could spend entire class periods talking about it. If the students could get him off the subject of the class, and onto something else, they might be rewarded with a discussion that could last the entire period. Be it baseball, politics, abortion, movies, television... anything! He could go on forever.

Schwantes was no pushover. He knew exactly what he was doing. And he would even comment that students routinely come into class and say to each other, "What can we get Schwantes to talk about today?" But there was a method to his madness. He defended his social discussions as something kids needed to grow. And he was right. The overall atmosphere made learning (when we did learn stuff) quite easy. I'd bet the failure rate for his classes was extremely low.

Schwantes had a lot of stories. One of his favorites was when a student from years past came in with his checkbook and tried to bribe him for a good grade. For the record, Schwantes refused the offer.

Schwantes also mentioned the time a certain girl (again, in years past) would wear a really short skirt, (with no underwear) and would sit in the front row and flash him. As Schwantes said, "You could see right up to her oh-my-gosh!" I guess teaching has certain perks.

Schwantes also told us that during the previous year, he taught a class. And on every Monday morning, these two senior girls (who he refused to name) would come in and meet each other, and ask each other whether either of them had "gotten any" over the weekend. He said they were a little too loud with their talk. Apparently other poeple heard too. Because a few of the students in our class knew exactly which two students he was talking about. The two students were allegedly (again, according to a few of the students in our class, Craig Rysticken for one) class of 1988's Lori Gagnon and Angie Algozine. If memory serves, I think they were both cheerleaders.

One of my favorite stories was when he spoke about class of 1987's Laura Ledvina. Laura was a girl who had some really funky hair. She was a cute girl actually. She was always smiling. But it was often hard to notice because your glance always went to her hair. I don't know what she did with it. But she somehow made it stand up in a great big pile on her head. Picture Marge Simpson, only not quite as large, and a lot less blue. That was Laura. Anyway, Schwantes was fascinated by her. He was so impressed with her. Clearly she wanted attention. And her hair provided that. People would often stop and just look at her. And she would just smile, and walk on by with her head held high. She was clearly confident. I never knew Laura myself. But I wish I would have. She seemed like a fascinating person. Schwantes was dead-on accurate with his description. Incidentally, I believe Laura lives in Arizona today. And I believe she's a jazz musician.

I also recall Schwantes telling us a story about two guys who attempted a social experiment years earlier. On a whim, they decided to hold hands when they walked out of class and headed towards their next class. Apparently they walked the halls like that. They wanted to see what reactions they would get. Apparently there were lots of stares and confused looks. I would have loved to have seen that. And no, the two guys weren't gay.

I mentioned this story in Larry Daffner's entry. But it's worth repeating. One of the guys in our class was fellow graduate David Kanera. Dave was in all his glory in that class. He was constantly yapping, and was always involved in the discussions. He thrived on attention. It's like he needed it to breathe. It was annoying as hell! Well one day Schwantes started the class and asked us what we should do that day. In referring to Dave, Larry yelled out, "Why don't we all ignore what's-his-name in the corner, and see how long it takes before he goes nuts!" I don't think most of the class understood what Larry was talking about. But I did. And I laughed my ass off.

Schwantes was the first teacher I'd ever heard use the word "fuck." Up until that point, the worst I'd ever encountered was when Mrs. Casey called me a "little shit." (Ms. Sapa once said "shit" too.) But Schwantes didn't really swear at anyone. He used the words in the context of one of his many stories. He was telling us about a student in years past who was always talking in class. Schwantes routinely had to tell him to be quiet. One day the kid snapped and said, "Everytime I open my fuckin' mouth, you tell me to shut up." Our class laughed. He defended his use of the word, stating that he was only using it in context. When asked if he punished the kid, he said no. He said the kid was simply letting off steam, and didn't mean any harm. Good man that Schwantes.

Near the end of the year, Schwantes talked about the fact that the seniors (like myself) were leaving school and going out into the real world. In doing so, he said something very interesting. He said that many seniors would prefer to keep going in school, as for the first time in their lives, the future was unknown. Bingo! This was me. I hated school. I'd hated it since I first entered kindergarten. I had drawn a calendar on the back of one of my notebooks, so I could count down the number of school days left. At any point in the second semester, I could have told you exactly what the number was. But the scary reality is that I had no plans whatsoever after high school. I wasn't interested in college. I certainly didn't want to work. It was a weird time. And Schwantes was right. Because I was one of those kids. As much as I hated school, if I could have stayed on for another year, I would have. How awful is that? I must have been a lost soul at that time. So what did happen to me? I ended up washing dishes for 10 months. That was enough to convince me that I needed to go back to school. It took a couple of shaky years to figure out how to be a real student (something I never learned growing up) but I eventually caught on, even making the Dean's List at one point. Smart man that Schwantes.

Schwantes was married to fellow teacher Carol Schwantes. But they ended up divorcing at some point. I'm quite sure Schwantes is retired today. But he still lives in Two Rivers. My thanks to Cindy Rohrer for providing this picture. It appears to have been taken back in the late-1980's, possibly during our senior year. I have no idea where it was taken though.


At Fri Dec 22, 07:54:00 AM PST, Blogger Brad Strouf said...

Mr. Schwantes was a brilliant thinker and probably should have been teaching college classes.

Your post was, once again, terribly accurate. I enjoyed his class immensely.


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