This blog has a history of profiling “cool teachers you should know,” and I wanted to start off 2009 by celebrating the life and work of Bob Kiessling, a legendary New Jersey math teacher and cross country/track coach who passed away over the holiday break.
Throughout my junior and senior years of high school, Bob Kiessling and I met in the dark at 5:30am and put in 5-7 miles. He wasn’t the coach at my school, but my friend ran for his team and convinced me to tag along over the summer. Because of an arcane NJ sports rule, I couldn’t run with his team during the school year. So Kiessling - in his inimitable, gruff Clint Eastwood style - decided we would run together in the mornings. He didn’t want to be paid, patted on the back, or even thanked for coaching me. There were only two conditions: I had to sport a geeky reflector vest so we didn’t end up as roadkill, and if it was at least 45 degrees, I had to wear shorts.
It is easy to point to the eight state championships that Kiessling’s cross country and track teams won, multiple “coach of the year” awards from New Jersey track associations, his acclaim among fellow math teachers, or where his runners went on to run in college as evidence of his impact. But what struck me at his funeral on Saturday was the range of 500 former students and runners who came to pay their respects. Alongside his current students at Haddonfield Memorial High School were former students in their 30s and 40s - students he taught decades ago. Most of us had stayed in touch with Kiessling all this time. 10, 20, even 30 years later, so many of us remembered him as the teacher who made the biggest difference in our lives.
As a researcher, I think a lot about teaching - how we measure its impact, what it means for a teacher to be good, and how we motivate and support the right people to enter and stay in the classroom. Bob Kiessling has always been part of the answer to those questions for me. If you have a few minutes today, take a look at some of the testimonials from former students, parents, and colleagues that flooded in online. He will be missed.
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