Morning, UP

Most kids were beyond ecstatic to have the school year end.

Not my cousin Emily nor some of her friends. They had just finished an outstanding fifth-grade school year and were inconsolable about leaving that grade and the teacher who made such a difference to them, Kyle Saari at Lakeview Elementary School in Negaunee.

While most youngsters were fired up for summer, Emily and her crew were devastated to have to say goodbye to what she called “the best year I’ll ever have.”

Sweet Em, you have a lot of years ahead of you and great things are going to happen to you in those years. But you know what? I do understand. Because my fifth-grade year was awesome, too.

Looking back to fifth grade, 45 years after the fact, I can tell you it was an important year for me. Having a great teacher when you’re at that age can make a huge difference in your life, building your confidence and keeping you liking school.

For Emily, it was Kyle Saari. For me, it was Dick Carlson.

Years ago, I wrote a piece about teachers who had made an impact on me through my years of grade, middle and high school and Mr. Carlson was on that list. You note, I still refer to him as Mr. Carlson. Teachers I respected in my youth, even all these years later, still are Mr., Mrs. or Miss to me.

Refer to them by their first names? Not gonna happen.

For me to remember particulars about what we did during the 1968-69 school year is a sign of how much it all did for me.

Through the years, many of my teachers were awesome. But that fifth-grade year was special.

For one, Mr. Carlson helped us build our poise. On Fridays, we’d have to draw from a hat slips on which he’d written “explain how to make spaghetti” or “talk about your favorite uncle” and then we’d have to stand in front of the entire class and speak to the topic.

When you’re 10 or 11, that’s the equivalent to having to deliver a commencement address in front of thousands. But we all had to do it and by darn, it got easier the more we did it.

Sometimes Mr. Carlson even let us write tasks for him to perform. The one that sticks in my mind all these years later is “act like a gorilla.” He did, much to his students’ delight.

The exercise wound up being a huge help in later years, when having to speak in front of others. We learned to think on our feet and we learned to present ourselves at the same time. Such a great lesson.

The classroom wasn’t just Mr. Carlson’s, it was ours. He made us all feel that we mattered. For some kids, that was something different coming from an adult. He treated us with respect at any age when many young people were accustomed to being ignored or diminished or dismissed.

Dignity might not be on the list of “things to teach,” but it’s a lesson that can influence the course of someone’s future. Mr. Carlson taught his students they all indeed had dignity.

So dear Emily and friends: I do get why you’re so distraught to say so long to Mr. Saari. My wish for you all is that your memories of your fifth-grade year make you smile 45 years later, just as mine do, but also that you have other teachers in the future who make you so excited about school.

There are many of those teachers out there: Be sure to give them a chance.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is