Farewell to Walnut’s greatest
There are 10 faculty members retiring this year — that‚Äôs over 200 cumulative years of teaching, advising and leading the school.
It‚Äôs always been about the kids for Mr. Mike Nelson. Nelson has taught 45 years, 35 at Walnut. Though he taught and majored in physical education (PE), he began teaching primarily history 20 years ago and is now the main AP United States History (APUSH) teacher.
Nelson had taught a history class only a few years before he taught APUSH. Before the summer ended, the previous APUSH teacher had left Walnut. With no time to hire a new teacher, the school decided to put the former PE teacher in the position.
‚ÄúLiterally, that first day of AP, I remember, I walked into my classroom and the whole class – I mean, it was one of the best classes I’ve ever had, but on the first day, they said, ‚ÄėWhat are you doing here? You can‚Äôt do this; you’re a PE teacher, you’re a coach.‚Äô I had to prove it to them,‚ÄĚ Nelson said. ‚ÄúI spent like 2.5 hours a night that first year trying to make notes and things of that nature.‚ÄĚ
He won them over. By the end of his first semester, one of his students called his wife to ask what Nelson wanted for Christmas, so that the class could buy it for him–and then the students got him another gift at the end of the school year.
When we asked about him why he enjoyed teaching, he answered as expected.
‚ÄúJust every year, just the kids that I have the privilege to be in contact with everyday. I probably learned as much, or more from them, as they learned from me. That‚Äôs what I like the most, the interaction with the kids.‚ÄĚ
Things have changed since Mrs. Victoria Workman first began in Walnut 25 years ago.
‚ÄúWhen I first started in this district, [the former personnel director] would take all the new teachers around the district on a bus ride, and he would show us where he started with students, and they rode their horses to school, and tied them up at Suzanne Park,‚ÄĚ Workman said. ‚ÄúThere were walnut trees everywhere. Those big, beautiful houses weren‚Äôt there. It was such a different landscape…and the students were all white.‚ÄĚ
Workman graduated with a degree in journalism. She originally taught at Diamond Bar High School, where she taught Diamond Bar‚Äôs first radio and tv program. After finishing her ESL credentials, she became the bilingual ESL coordinator for the district. The change for Workman continued, as she soon began teaching at Walnut.
She found home.
‚ÄúIf you teach at Walnut High you‚Äôre involved in the whole community. I live in Walnut. I raised my kids in Walnut. They went to schools [in] Walnut. I teach at Walnut. It‚Äôs a real community, and you make a commitment when you work here. It‚Äôs much more than a job. It‚Äôs a family,‚ÄĚ Workman said.
Workman‚Äôs quarter century journey in Walnut has been filled with change, but throughout it all, home never changes.
‚ÄúI just appreciated that when all of the other teachers my age retired, the young teachers still accepted me and kept me involved and made me feel like I still belonged,‚ÄĚ Workman said.
‚ÄúThe Best Teacher in Walnut,‚ÄĚ is a title only a few teachers could ever claim. West Coast magazine claims it‚Äôs Ms. Dawn Geery.
Geery began teaching 37 years ago, the last 15 in Walnut. She previously taught at California, Bellflower and Montebello High Schools.
‚ÄúIf you‚Äôve been on another campus, you‚Äôll know this place is just awesome. You know because the other campuses have a real tardy problem, where they have fights on a regular basis,‚ÄĚ Geery said, ‚ÄúWith attendance, you‚Äôre lucky if six or seven kids aren‚Äôt absent from each period and not here. I mean, it‚Äôs a very peaceful place, and the kids are driven. So, it‚Äôs a great place to work.‚ÄĚ
Both of Geery‚Äôs children attended Walnut. The eldest graduated in 2008, and the youngest graduated in 2011.
‚ÄúI‚Äôll tell you what is really special, the fact that my kids went to school here and getting to go to school with your kids every day. That‚Äôs ‘priceless,’ as the commercial would say. Going to the pep rallies and watching your kids get so excited with the whole crowd–it’s a pretty great experience as a parent,‚ÄĚ Geery said.
On Thursday, April 30, Geery was awarded ‚ÄúBest Teacher in Walnut,‚ÄĚ by West Coast magazine.
‚ÄúWhat a culminating kind of thing. I‚Äôm retiring and then they‚Äôre going to give me this award. I honestly don‚Äôt think I‚Äôm the best teacher in Walnut,‚ÄĚ said Geery, ‚ÄúI think there‚Äôs like a ton of great teachers in Walnut but it‚Äôs kind of an honor. Kind of a weird coincidence that I get it the year I‚Äôm going to retire.‚ÄĚ
During Mr. Bill Diskin‚Äôs employment at Walnut, he‚Äôs seen six presidents, the end of the U.S.S.R, and Jeff Jordan graduate from, and later become the principal at, Walnut High School.
Diskin has been at Walnut for 37 years.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a good place to come to every day. The nice thing was I never get up and said, ‘Oh no, I have to go to work today.’ There are great students, like yourselves here, with good attitudes and very nice people around and very competent also. So that‚Äôs what kind of kept me going all these years,‚ÄĚ Diskin said.
Diskin has taught multiple subjects, including the extinct woodshop and driver‚Äôs education. Of course, after 37 years, schools change a little bit.
‚ÄúIt was gradual, [All the change] didn‚Äôt come at once. It was different you can see that, and you can step back, and look and see that. There was change, not just here, but in a lot of different areas,‚ÄĚ Diskin said.
Diskin has seen Jordan, Jonathan Wood and other staff members grow from high school students, to coworkers.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a testament of how great this place is,‚ÄĚ Diskin said, ‚ÄúPeople want to come back.I brought all three of my kids here. It‚Äôs a place where people want to be because of the quality of the students, the teachers, the community and the parents.‚ÄĚ
Diskin gave me one request when I had asked him what he would miss about Walnut.
‚ÄúWrite this. The people. The students and the staff, lifelong friendships– I have students living right behind me, and they say how they enjoyed being here and how it helped them. That‚Äôs the strength of this place. The people.‚ÄĚ
On Thursday, May 28th, over 200 years of wisdom leaves Walnut. The Hoofprint would like to thank this years retirees, Mr. Bill Diskin, Ms. Irm Diskin, Ms. Dawn Geery, Ms. Melinda Hildreth, Ms. Joanne Karr, Mr. John Keith, Ms. Sue Mages, Mr. Mike Nelson, Ms. Maureen Renniger and Ms. Victoria Workman, for all of their contribution to Walnut.
By Shahar Syed, Opinion editor