Kevin MacMillan: When is the last time you thanked a teacher?

Kevin MacMillan

I was, for lack of a better term, a smart-ass during middle and high school. Many teachers out there are familiar with kids like me. I was an envelope-pusher. “How much can I get away with this time?” was a phrase that flew through my head fairly often.

Now, I would never go “over the line” and put myself in jeopardy of serious, future-endangering punishment — after all, I might have been a smart-ass, but I wasn’t an idiot.

Still, there was something about my teenage mindset that impacted how I dealt with a handful of certain teachers — they were the ones who wore their buttons a little too openly on their sleeves, and boy, did I do my best to push them.

Take, for example, Mr. Mestack, who was one of my eighth-grade teachers back in 1997-98 at Bad Axe Junior High School. I recall being kicked out of his class probably eight or so times, for anything from talking out of turn to being busted tossing tape-balls across the classroom.

I did other stupid things, and I’d get a few after-school detentions for committing them. The only time I received a Saturday detention was for getting caught throwing the tiniest of snowballs inside a 10th-grade classroom at Bad Axe High School. Sorry about that, Ms. Paganini!

“Doesn’t spend time wisely” was always a low mark on my report cards.

By the way, in case you’re doing a double-take, I did grow up in a small Michigan farm town called “Bad Axe.” It’s populated with 3,000 people or so, surrounded by corn fields and cow farms — and our school mascot is, of course, the “Hatchets.”

Mr. Tuckey, my 11th-grade chemistry and 12th-grade AP physics teacher, also comes to mind. I would do that thing where I would annoyingly tap my pencil on my desk (in my head, drumming away like John Bonham or Keith Moon), disrupting class. It’d go something like this:

Mr. Tuckey: “Kevin, stop that.”

Me: “OK.”


Mr. Tuckey (with a dark stare): “Kevin, I mean it. Cut it out. Now.”

Me: “OK, OK. I’ll stop.”

… … … … … … … (TAP!)

Tuckey: “That’s it, out in the hall!”

And then there was Mr. Van Tiem, one of my ninth-grade teachers who had somewhat of a notorious reputation among students of being someone who didn’t put up with too many shenanigans.

What a perfect opportunity for me, I thought. Sure enough, I got booted several times for doing the same silly things I’d done the year prior with Mr. Mestack. This one time, I was dared into stealing Mr. Van Tiem’s roll of tape from the dispenser on his desk. In the grand scheme of schoolroom transgressions, it was fairly minor, and no one fessed up when he berated the class for it.

Apparently, he found out. Somehow. Weeks later, during summer vacation, I received a package, no return address, with my name and address scrawled sloppily on the cover. Inside was no note or letter — just a simple black tape dispenser.

Thinking back on that now, I can’t help but chuckle. Those were the good ole days, when a kid can be a kid and do silly things.

But, it also allows me to reflect. I know for a fact there were far-worse students with whom my teachers had to deal, and in a way, while my hijinks were benign in nature, they likely chipped away here and there at my educators’ psyche.

Looking back, knowing what I know now, I probably would have changed a few things to show more respect for the passion my teachers — many of whom are surely not in it for the paycheck — had to prepare children for the real world.

This realization came after this Monday, when we hosted a reception at our Truckee office for 10 local educators selected as finalists for our Teacher of the Year award, in partnership with Charlie Riley and the Truckee Hometown Sears store.

In all, about 40 people were on hand, including eight finalists, family members and many school district administrators. And while there was only one winner (you’ll have to wait until next week to find out), the levels of appreciation and respect in that room Monday evening for these teachers’ hard work and dedication were incredible and refreshing.

So, as we bid farewell to another school year and celebrate another crop of high school graduates, take a moment to thank some teachers, whether current or past. We all know they deserve it.

Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza newspapers; he may be reached for comment at

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