Teaching:35 years of making a difference
How does Doris Lucchesi describe her experience teaching at Tahoe-Truckee High School for 35 consecutive years?
“It’s been 35 years of home away from home,” she explained. Lucchesi – who teaches government, economics, honors history, philosophy and psychology – recently announced her retirement. This school year will mark the end of her dedicated teaching career.
In June of 1965, TTHS was minus its current library and auditorium and served approximately 500 students from Floriston to Rubicon. Doris Lucchesi and her husband at the time, fresh out of Chico State University, walked through the doors of the building to ask the principal for teaching jobs.
“We just showed up in June and walked into the principal’s office,” she said. “He said,’Do you want to start with summer school?'”
To Lucchesi teaching is an art; and art she has been trying to perfect for 35 years. It is also an art she understands to be an on-going learning process.
“For many many years, I was not very good at it (teaching). You teach the way you were taught,” she said. “Teaching is an art. I don’t know if you can teach people to do it.”
Several years into her teaching career, she realized that she needed to learn to teach and it just clicked.
It happened slowly, deliberately and was frightening.
“Every time you try something different, it’s frightening,” she said. “I became more student and less teacher focused. I let my students teach me what they needed from me. It’s kind of scary because it’s unfamiliar. But, boy, are they (the students) good teachers. I have been inspired by the young people here … We have great young people here.”
She admits she got into teaching at a time when women were either teachers, stewardesses or nurses.
“It seemed like the sanest choice,” she said.
In retrospect, however, she said she sees that her grandmother was a large influence on her teaching style.
“She was a ‘consummate teacher.’ She was just always teaching, not in an authoritative way.”
Because she taught at the same school for so long, she taught many of her current students’ parents. She has been able to witness first-hand the long-term effects of teaching.
“You have to be into long-term gratification,” she said. “You don’t get a lot of immediate gratification. You get it over a period of time when you see the students you taught.”
The rewards also include the tiny moments you have shared with students, when you realize you have given them pleasure or made their minds tick, she said.
The biggest gift of teaching for Lucchesi has been the awareness of how good young people are. She has no children of her own, and is thankful to have been involved in her students’ lives to learn about who young people really are.
“If you don’t have contact with them, you only know what you see on TV. On TV, they look negative. As a teacher, you see such good things. They keep you young.”
In her retirement, the interaction with students is what she’ll miss the most.
She describes her teaching style as “whatever works.”
“I’m willing to find out what works,” she explained. “Every class has a personality. A job of the teacher is to read the personality of a class. You have to read students more carefully and not push too hard … And some of them need to be pushed real hard.”
The image is you walk into a classroom and students are waiting for you to teach them great wisdom, she said. But the reality is there are 34 different personalities sitting in front of you.
“She teaches life,” said TTHS senior Cein Watson. “She’s the best teacher I’ve ever had. She’s a self-proclaimed trickster. She’ll push you and push you until you see the other side of things without realizing it.”
Senior Kendra Murphy agree.
“She’ll push your buttons,” she said. “She’ll make you explain your reasoning behind your beliefs. She’ll make you see the other side of everything.”
Every Friday Lucchesi holds a show-and-tell to capture her students’ creative and young sides. Every other Friday is “Friday Fun Day,” when students play games or plan activities with TTHS special education students.
Murphy said that one day Lucchesi handed out little tiny toys to her students. A small ball was attached to a string, and the students had to try to get the ball into a small cup, also attached to the toy.
“Some students tied their strings in knots to make them shorter and easier to get in the cup. Some cheated and put them in the cup with their hands. Some challenged themselves and just kept hitting it until the ball went in,” she said. “That was her way of teaching us how people reach their goals. That’s an example of how she teaches.”
Both Watson and Murphy agreed they appreciated the respect she gave them.
“She doesn’t place herself higher than us,” Murphy said. “She’s the kind of teacher you can go to about anything.”
Although Lucchesi said she will miss her students and teaching, she said she is leaving at the right time.
“I’m going out while I’m still loving it,” she said.
She’s looking forward to going to bed at 11 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m.
“I will have no problem filling my time,” she said.
Her hobbies include woodworking and working with gourds, which she finds sacred.
“I need more gourd time,” she said. She tells people when explaining her strange hobby that she considers her life B.G. – Before Gourds – and A.G. – After Gourds.
Her parents are still alive, and she also plans to spend more time with them.
As for young people, she plans to still be around them by volunteering at the high school and spending time there after she retires.
And she will treat them with the same respect as always. “They don’t ask for much – just acknowledging them for who they are.”
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