Thanks to the quirky magic of Facebook, the first person to wish me a Happy Birthday this year was my high school Spanish teacher.
“¡Feliz cumpleaños, Laura! Desde Chile donde estamos de vacaciones. GWizz”
Gee Wiz, that message thrilled me, though we probably hadn’t spoken in more than 30 years!
Gladys Wisnefske brought an enticing element of savoir faire to our little Catholic High School. She had serious brown eyes and an intriguing maiden name, wore bright colored silk and spoke with a cultured Chilean accent.
Señora Wisnefske taught history, religion, world politics and deportment under the unassuming class name of Spanish 3, Spanish 4 and Spanish 5. We learned to conjugate Spanish verbs naturally while we discussed novels and the daily news.
And the field trips, oh my! Thanks to the worldly señora, my friends and I travelled to Guatemala for five weeks during the summer between our sophomore and junior year. I climbed up one side of a volcano and slid down the other side on an ash trail, explored the ancient city of Tikal, and saw coffee fields from the passenger seat of a helicopter. I rode a motor cycle in the rain (though I wasn’t supposed to), danced in the street and got my ears pierced.
We hosted wonderful guests through her exchange program, including the mysterious Andres Bauer and the muy guapo Eduardo Estrada.
The gift of Señora Wisnefske kept right on giving as I made my way to college. With very little effort, I earned a Spanish minor midway through my sophomore year. Unfortunately, that marked the culmination of my Spanish language experience (except for a recent trip to Peru during which I impressed my extremely hungry mother with my ability to order her a plain cheese pizza.)
As for all truly memorable educators, though, Señora Wisnefske’s influence extends far beyond the language she taught. We all left her classroom a little bit classier, a touch more dignified than we were when we entered.
As we wrap up Teacher Appreciation Week here in the United States, I’d like to give a sincere shout out to the tiny, but tenacious teacher who gave us all a delicious taste of the world outside our classroom door.