Andrewson taught students to look for windows and mirrors
Kathy Andrewson has spent most of her adult life around great books and teenagers, a combination that on the surface doesn't seem a natural. But Andrewson wouldn't agree. In her more than 33 years of teaching English at Hudson High School, the best days have been when those teenagers "get it" about a great read.
"When everything clicks in a classroom, it's special. Nothing feels better. Boy, will I miss that."
Andrewson will retire at the end of this school year. She grew up in St. Croix Falls and loved school. She briefly considered a career in nursing but the first class of nurse's aid training put that notion to rest. After some consideration it just made sense to pursue a career in education.
But as much as she loved school as a student, her first years as a teacher were challenging. "I always loved school and my teachers. It was heartbreaking to me to learn that some kids didn't like me or English. I thought I'd last maybe five years. But as the time went on, I stopped looking like I belonged in a seat next to them instead of standing in front of them. I learned how to talk to the students, how to discipline and react less emotionally. But it was rough back then in the '70s. It was a tumultuous time for everybody."
Andrewson said today's students are more settled, especially the seniors. But she enjoys the sophomores because they are "so entertaining" She teaches 10th-, 11- and 12-graders in World Literature, Issues in Modern Literature, advanced composition and until recently the American Novel. The novel class has been dropped from the curriculum, although Andrewson worked hard to keep it. It was one of the factors in her decision to retire. "Not to teach something like 'Grapes of Wrath' and other great American novels just doesn't seem right."
But her students are still exposed to what she believes are some of the best writers, both old and new, in her other classes. "The world literature is difficult for students at first. The names and settings are so foreign at first but then they begin to see the themes and understand the story and they get it. That's a wonderful thing to experience."
Just recently one of her senior students wrote a poem inspired by the themes of a book about South Africa. "He applied the themes of the book to what he was experiencing in his own life as a senior right now. That is the kind of thing I will miss."
Andrewson is proud of what she and the other HHS English teachers have accomplished in the advanced composition classes. She believes it is some of the best work they do, keeping the classes small so students get lots of individualized attention and feedback. She acknowledges that the class is difficult, intense and demanding for students, but the payoff is worth it.
Andrewson believes students can be taught to be good writers, and the key is organization. "With time and practice, every student improves. It's a process we go through together. I look at their first drafts just like the final one." She is like a coach and says the best student writers are open to criticism and are looking for feedback.
Andrewson will not be idle in her retirement. She hopes to find a job writing, but isn't sure the direction that will take. She and her husband, HHS math teacher Steve Kocmoud, are organic gardeners, and she is looking forward not just to tending her garden this summer but being around for the harvest in the fall. Teaching has always gotten in the way of that, but this year she looks forward to cooking with the fruits of their labor.
And she will be reading. Andrewson is anxious to get started on the books she has accumulated over the years but hasn't had time to read. While she will miss introducing great books to students, she knows they will continue to experience what is important in them.
Andrewson ends her classes every year by asking students to classify what they've read as either a window or a mirror. She is always impressed by what her students write.
"Books that count transform us. Some open windows to things we've never seen or experienced. Others are like mirrors that reflect our own lives. I will miss seeing students get that."