His Twin Tasks: Teaching Students and Serving Teachers

Even after 45 years of teaching, graduation is still an emotional night for Mike Anderson.

At Northview High’s commencement, Anderson stood center stage at Sunshine Community Church as seniors filed by two-by-two before taking their seats. He was happy to see them smile and nod. And yet, as always, it was a bittersweet moment.

“You spend a lot of time with those kids,” said Anderson, an Advanced Placement government and law teacher. “You’re glad to see them start another phase of their life. It’s time to say goodbye to them, then they embark on their lives.”

One student depicted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

He will miss those students, and hopes he helped send them on their way well-prepared for what’s next.

He has helped prepare many in his 45 years at Northview Public Schools. They include two superintendents; Kent County District Judge Jeffrey O’Hara, a 1976 graduate; and the late Trevor Slot, a 1989 grad and Walker Police officer killed in 2011 by the vehicle of fleeing bank robbery suspects.

Slot’s widow, Kim, is a teacher at Crossroads Middle School. Anderson also cares about her well-being, and that of other Northview teachers, as president of the Northview Education Association. He has headed the bargaining unit, now numbering 215 active teachers, since 1980.

Representing the interests of teachers while trying to bring out the best in students gives Anderson a broader view of education than most. He sees students facing more demands while their teachers are getting less support.

“Our students today are exposed to a lot more, but they also have more pressure – pressure from society to do well,” he said. Meanwhile, teachers are coming under heavy criticism while their pay has stagnated, he asserted. 

“If I were a young person today, I’d have to think twice about going into education,” said Anderson, 67. “There’s not much incentive.”

♥Getting Students into Community

Yet Anderson says he has enjoyed good relations with the Northview Board of Education and district superintendents, calling the retiring Mike Paskewicz “an honorable person. We argue about the right things.”

As for teaching, he clearly loves the profession and takes pride in his students. He also coaches: boys and girls bowling and varsity golf, and, previously, football for 32 years. He notes his girls bowling team has gone to the state finals six years in a row.

He takes pride, too, in the painted tiles that cover his classroom ceiling, student-created art honoring political figures, institutions and causes. They were made by government students, who are required to perform 12 hours of community volunteer service. They have done so everywhere from soup kitchens to 63rd District Court, where they survey citizens on their experience.

“They’re great kids,” said Anderson, who is also senior class adviser. “They do a lot more than people realize in terms of volunteerism.”

He has wanted to teach since attending Montague High School, where he was a star athlete. He bypassed offers from the Chicago White Sox and Washington Senators to attend Muskegon Community College and Grand Valley State University, and earned a master’s at Western Michigan.

Anderson student-taught at Northview High under Ted Burba, who soon became his colleague. He was hired at West Oakview Elementary and joined the high school staff a few years later, enjoying teaching more with each passing year.

“I like the challenge, and the fact that you can see people grow,” he said. “And hopefully help them to get off on the right step after high school.”

Handshakes over Fists  

In that aim, he seems to have done well. His former students include Northview school board members Jim Manikowski and Jeff Lambert, Athletic Director Jerry Klekotka, high school Assistant Principal Brent Dickerson, retired Kentwood Superintendent Scott Palczewski and incoming Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff. All played football for him as well.

Anderson was elected president of the NVEA in 1980, shortly after the teachers’ union settled a strike with the district. He had been a member of the Teamsters since college, so knew what hard-knuckle bargaining was about. But he said he cringes at the word “union” — he prefers “professional association” — and points out there have been no strikes since he became president.

“I’ve always felt it’s easier to get better results with a smile and a handshake rather than a fist and a frown,” he said in his easy-going manner. “We’re in this together.”

The union and district have long used a collaborative bargaining method, where Anderson is chief negotiator with administrators, and board members are not involved. As they enter the third year of a three-year contract, Anderson and his team will meet this summer with Kent County Education Association officials to begin preparing for negotiations next spring.

Teachers under Fire

Beyond representing Northview teachers, Anderson tries to counter “misinformation” about a profession he feels has come unfairly under fire. State policy and inadequate funding aren’t helping, he said.

“In my opinion, what’s happened to public education in Michigan is a travesty,” he said, pinpointing Gov. Rick Snyder and his administration. “I really fail to see how the actions they’ve taken will encourage bright young minds to want to become teachers.”

Many teachers haven’t received raises in five or six years, he said, adding that he typically works 12 to 14 hours a day. To the oft-heard charge that teachersget summers off, he points out that many take classes and professional development workshops.

As for him, he will be helping to develop a new social studies curriculum for the fall, and working with his golfers on fund-raising and assisting with the LPGA tournament in July. Come fall, he will return to teaching his students about government, law and civic responsibility.

“I hope I teach them to always ask questions, stand up for what they believe in and get involved,” he said.

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Michigan Education Association

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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