M-A teacher Jim MacKenzie will be missed in his retirement
Classroom B2 at Menlo-Atherton High School will have the same number on the door next fall, but longtime inhabitant Jim MacKenzie — an M-A graduate, an M-A parent and, for 25 years, a social studies teacher there — will be somewhere else.
He might be at home working on a history of M-A, or in his garden, or in the High Sierra building a cabin. These are some of his plans for retirement, which begins when this school year ends.
"It's hard for me to believe," he said, sitting in his empty classroom before the start of a 7:50 a.m. class. "Every September since 1950, I've been in school. It's going to be strange in September for me. That's when it's going to hit. I'm going to miss that. The truth is, it's going to be a difficult thing to leave."
It may be difficult for his colleagues, too.
"He has been my mentor and friend since the summer before I started at M-A (in) 1992. He is an amazing teacher," said social studies teacher Christina Galliano. "To say I will miss him is an understatement."
English teacher Liane Strub recalled a MacKenzie lesson perhaps not taught in teacher training but encountered during a classroom-management talk by a new teacher. The teacher noted ideas such as naming problem students on the board or having students vote in their own disciplinary procedures.
"The rather green and overly enthusiastic teacher who was leading the presentation turned to Jim and asked him what method he used to maintain discipline in his classroom," Ms. Strub recalled. "Jim looked the young teacher in the eye and said one word: 'Sarcasm.' Nothing like a little ribbing to keep a kid in line."
"What I love best about Jim is his desire to see every kid succeed," Ms. Strub continued. "He bends over backward to make both of his subjects — psychology and economics — accessible.
"His economics projects provide a way for kids to see the relevance of the 'dismal science' to their lives, and he's famous for his flexibility in testing. A student can argue the validity of a question, and earn the point back if his or her argument is sound."
Fun and real-life learning are the elements of a Jim MacKenzie class, said senior Stephen Hicks. "He really wants kids to learn."
The learning is not rote but independent, focused on the material rather than grades, and with no penalties for late work, Stephen said.
"I manage my time in his classes," he said. "I learned that for myself. I wasn't forced into that situation."
Some other teachers are "very rigid," he added. In Mr. MacKenzie's classes, "you can learn a life lesson and be independent and manage your own time."