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Cool Teachers You Should Know: Remembering Bob Kiessling

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.

This is a beautiful dedication.

Your story reminds me of the 30+ year veteran teacher who became the founding principal of our school, Charlie Sposato. Similar funeral, so many tales of changed lives.

Like your Bob K, he didn't want to hear it when I talked about how, in a just system, he'd be compensated as a superstar.

Still, if the trend is towards differentiated teacher compensation, I'd like to see is to allow each kid, both at the end of elementary school and the end of high school, to answer "Which teacher or staff member had the biggest positive influence on you?" -- and in some way reward accordingly.

If value-add gains and principal or "peer" evaluations can become one driver of compensation, surely the student voice, particularly around these outlier "life-changing" teachers, can be part of the equation.

Mr. Kiessling sounds like a great teacher (and coach). Thanks for posting your tribute to him.

I agree with the comment above regarding allowing students to name the teacher or staff member who most impacted their lives in the past semester. As Bob's family, we have appreciated the many tributes along those lines found here in the testimonials and on face book (which I finally had to join or lose pace). However, some of the tributes we most enjoyed were letters written to Bob at the end of the last school year. It confirmed for us that people weren't trying to find nice things to say about someone who had passed; they were saying those things about him while he was with us. An organized effort in this direction would bring another voice (an important voice at that) into the evaluation process.

Bob's sister, Joan

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Joan Kiessling Erle: I agree with the comment above regarding allowing students to read more
  • Attorney DC: Mr. Kiessling sounds like a great teacher (and coach). Thanks read more
  • MG: Your story reminds me of the 30+ year veteran teacher read more
  • EZ: This is a beautiful dedication. read more




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