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Teacher Marilyn Brisson's keys to success in the classroom - listen, laugh

Ask any of Marilyn Brisson's students from 30 years ago up to the present, and they will express surprise that she is retiring from teaching at the end of this school year. She's too young, they will say.

That youthful persona and a powerful sense of humor may be among Brisson's greatest assets as she completes a 35-year career as a teacher, 31 of those years in the Hudson School District. She began her career in Hudson at Rock Elementary School but transferred to Hudson Middle School in 1992 when the district reorganized and the house concept was introduced for grades six-eight. She was attracted by the structure and she was ready for a change.

She has been a sixth-grade language arts teacher ever since and part of the Raider Blue teaching team.

"I love teaching this age. They are so ready to fly at sixth grade. I think the middle school years are the most challenging. The students change so much while they are here. They want more independence but don't know if they are ready for it. They go through a lot of struggle that most people don't realize. A lot of it is hard, but they work through it," said Brisson.

Brisson, 56, has seen a lot of changes in students over the years as society has changed, but much of that struggle to grow up has remained essentially the same. Her strategy to help students through that process has developed over the years and is built on mutual respect.

"That is key to a good relationship with any student, regardless of who they are or how they perform in school. I explain my expectations of them and I am consistent with them. If we run into a problem, we deal with it and move on. I don't believe in holding a grudge. It doesn't help either of us. And laughing along the way helps. A sense of humor is very important."

Brisson said while she enjoyed the variety of things she taught at the elementary school level, she has enjoyed the chance to immerse herself into one area of teaching as a middle school teacher. But while her content area, language arts, may be the same from class to class, how she delivers it can differ from hour to hour.

"It is important to recognize who your students are and how they learn. That changes from hour to hour, and every student or group of students is different. It is part of the challenge and one of the things I enjoy. It's never boring."

Brisson has seen lots of changes in the language arts curriculum over the years and believes the best among them is the amount of writing students are now required to do. "They learn all forms of writing - creative, critical, persuasive. By the time they leave middle school, they have learned to organize a piece of writing to reflect what they know, and they will use that the rest of their lives."

Brisson said she has a collection of things written by her students over the years and she uses them as models for her current classes. "I keep the best and tell them this is what other students your age have done. It inspires a lot of them."

Brisson said she loves teaching language arts, even the grammar. "I let them complain about it for a little while and then we get to it. It's part of their job and mine and we get through it together."

After more than three decades in the classroom Brisson said she would tell new teachers to remember that classroom management is as important as content when it comes to middle school.

"You have to know your stuff but you also have to establish that line between teacher and student and create an environment that they don't mind walking into. The key is to build a rapport with students. Start slow and let them know you see them, and it will develop."

For parents, Brisson emphasizes listening. "Really listen to them. They are changing so much and dealing with so many things that it can overwhelm them and you. But if you can, put yourself in the position to have conversations with them, and spend most of it listening to what they have to say. Believe me, you will never find it boring."

To the students she's taught and the ones she won't, her advice is to take life one day at a time. Brisson said all students make mistakes along the way and that learning how to deal with them is among the biggest lessons of the middle school years.

"That can be very hard for kids. We know they are going to make mistakes. It's part of growing up but for them it can be very different. The key is when something doesn't work out the way you plan to start again, start over but keep going. It will get better."

Brisson and her husband, dentist Dr. Ken Brisson, have travel in their immediate plans, but the future will include more changes than that. Brisson said that while she will miss teaching and will miss her colleagues and students, she is ready to move on.

"I don't see this as an end but rather a new beginning. And I want to step out and look for new opportunities, some new way to stretch. I know this next part of my life will be just as good as the past."

Brisson will be honored along with other retiring teachers and staff members at a dinner reception on May 12.

Meg Heaton can be reached at

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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