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Monday, May 4, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Week Post Honors Mary Kay Mueller

Worldwide this week May 4-8 is Teacher Appreciation Week. In honor of teachers past and present population-we™ (pop-we) dedicates this week's post to Marian High School teacher Ms. Mary Kay Mueller.

Knowing what I know now, I have even greater appreciation for my 10th grade Speech Communication teacher, Ms. Mueller. The wholesome looking, attractive teacher with a warm, wide smile and friendly, broadcaster quality voice was the measuring stick in my mind when I majored in Communication at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Teacher & Author Extraordinaire Mary Kay Mueller

As the fear of taking a public speaking class has kept some people from pursuing higher education or completing their degree, it is good that both my high school public speaking teacher and the introductory public speaking course that I completed 10 years later in college both had instructors that seemed receptive to the efforts of the students. My first speech in my high school class broke down some of the elements of pitching the windmill for softball. Following my speech, Ms. Mueller spoke of how passion for a subject makes a difference in delivery.

Ms. Mueller assured us that feeling nervous was normal and can be channeled to help us. Nervousness and excitement are quite similar according to her.

The scope of what I was taught in my 10th grade class was more comprehensive than my college level Public Speaking class. Both classes were one semester and mandatory. We did the following speeches in both high school and college although the names may vary: demonstration, persuasion, and impromptu. The 10th grade class also had sections on debate, acting, humor and Oral Interpretation.

Oral Interpretation is my favorite type of Speech starting in 7th grade when I was one of the students chosen to compete for my school. In Ms. Mueller’s class, my love for this form of speech grew even more. I had one of the most alive moments in my life as I performed in front of her class shifting my voice between characters including Wendy, Captain Hook, Peter Pan and the narrator. I received such positive feedback from my class and Ms. Mueller. She did caution me that some of my voices could lead to voice strain. She also let me know that I could participate in that event for competition. I heard that she encouraged a lot of people to go out for the team.

During our acting section, I recall Ms. Mueller giving me positive feedback as we stood on the floor space between the basement level and next level of stairs. Now I am comfortable speaking one on one with most people. When I switched schools in 8th grade, I became quite withdrawn and lost normal communication skills when talking one on one. I seldom had anything to say and it could be hard making my lips move if I did want to speak. I could still give speeches and act during that time. I have learned that I am not so unusual in these traits among actors and performers. In a lecture at the university, I learned that there was a whole area of study for my condition labeled communication apprehension. The professor specialized in that very area. I am sorry for my blank stare at the time but grateful for a teacher who took the time.

Speech class at Marian High School, an all-girl Catholic High School in Omaha, NE was a safe place. At the beginning of our class, the rows of students wearing a light blue and white plaid culottes in warmer weather and a gray, longer skirt with in the cooler season stood by our desks as Ms. Mueller told us to tighten and relax regions of our body step by step until we had relaxed our feet, legs, arms, hands and more. I think it culminated in being hunched over in a rag doll position and raising ourselves upright ever so slowly. That was my favorite part of the stretching. For our vocal warm up at the start of class, there was a chant that was sing-song, and drum-like in quality. I delighted in the nonsense chant and maybe this explains in part my love of rhythm and whimsy in poetry.

In 10th grade, we learned the model of sending receiving messages that includes a sender, a receiver and interference that is probably basic to many high school and college level courses. We also learned far more interpersonal communication skills than I would in courses that followed at the university. Ms. Mueller taught us how to phrase our feelings in a way to not accuse a person when we confronted him or her. She tutored us in listening skills relating how rephrasing what a person said back to them demonstrates that you are listening.

There was a section on body language during the class. This had real application as she coached the girl in the role of Sandy in her acting group rendition of the play, “Grease” that her crossed leg was too assertive for the passive character.

Interesting factoids were woven in her lectures. Some of the insights came from her notes on past speeches given by students taking my class. Part of her purpose in sharing, was to help us learn attention getters, persuasive arguments, and other helpful information for speeches. From her I learned about the value of tears for releasing toxins from the body and the curative power of laughter. I even gained a rationale from chocolate as source for magnesium. We became more savvy consumers as she made us aware of scare tactics used by advertisers. She discussed the possible ramifications of living in a society that people feel a need to take a pill to take away every pain and headache.

Serious subjects were openly discussed. I recall her educating us about the importance of walking in an assertive manner while being aware of surroundings as she said this protected from sexual assault. She said that women were often assaulted when they were most drained and having a horrible day. Of course, it is wisest not to be alone in dangerous areas.

I think that I can vaguely recall emphasis on self-esteem in the lectures. But I cannot even form a fuzzy memory of the content. Ms. Mueller’s seeing something in me has always meant so much to me. The success in her classroom has always been an important foundation for me.

Ms. Mueller was very anti-television as she felt it whiles away our time that could be more productive. I believe her television was in her basement to make it only to be used on rare occasions, which I think included weather emergencies.

When Ms. Mueller was one of the faculty leaders for my retreats, the environment was so conducive for growth and sharing. There were large group and small group activities. I recall an activity where we took turns guessing the randomly placed label around our neck by the response given by others in our group.

During a small group session, someone shared something personal that she had done prior to high school. When I openly shared my feelings during the retreat, I felt closer to my classmates. Their continued acceptance of me is so vital to me. I so treasure that weekend retreat.

One of the wonderful aspects of attending a private school was the freedom it gave Ms. Mueller and others to share their spiritual feelings during Retreats and at times in the classroom. She shared her faith in God and prayer that year.

During a retreat, Ms. Mueller shared how young people lacking experience do not know how life is full of peaks and valleys. Her words have come back to me over and over and over as I have had my ups and downs. Little did I know how real the peaks and valleys were in her own life.

In reading her self-help workbook Taking Care of Me: The Habits of Happiness, I discovered the teacher who cheered us at school had troubles at home. As abusive situations go in cycles between good and bad and also escalate over time, I am not sure how bad it was when she was my teacher. It was only a couple of years after she taught my class that she hit rock bottom according to her book. She is one of the last people that I would ever expect to seek refuge shelter. I have known another dynamic woman who would find herself in a dangerous marriage. One cannot always spot someone in an abusive situation when there are no telling bruises or broken bones.

When Ms. Mueller and her toddler daughter fled to a shelter, she met an elderly mentor whose views at first seemed harsh to her. The elderly woman did not believe in victim mentality. She grew to love this wise woman who empowers women to feel that they deserve happiness.

Ms. Mueller said the future is often grim for women at the shelter. They often find themselves in abusive relationships again. She humbled to what she described as a blank slate. This was not a period of her being the communication expert. Here she was an open vessel willing to learn a new way of thinking. She said this helped her break the cycle of abuse in her life.

I have often wished that youth that I have known could have a Ms. Mueller in their life. Fortunately, her words are reaching wide audiences of students. She also speaks to teachers and has a great deal of respect for this profession. As a former teacher, she knows how teaching can be both rewarding and demanding. She understands the realities of burn out among teachers who lack the right balance in their lives.

Ms. Mueller also shares presentations to business professionals, and people living in shelters. Messages are tailored to the particular audience.

In addition, Ms. Mueller provides training for people to become certified coaches. She said there is a demand for coaching as people want to change from the inside out. In her book, Taking Care of Me: Habits for Happiness, she relates the value of having coaches in our life. They may take many forms whether they are a grandparent, rabbi, pastor, teacher, therapist or certified coach. She also distinguishes between a coach and those who may act as a team player or cheerleader. She feels it is easy to find groups of supportive people and has started such groups online. I think there may be a time and a place for coaches and also a place for mental health professionals with very specialized training. Ms. Mueller is all about being in control of your life and not surrendering your power to another including a coach. She explains how trust is so critical that you should terminate a relationship with a coach if the trust is violated.

If the support group is mainly a gripe session or a place where people try to top each other, it is time to find a new group according to her. She also counsels that it is time to move on to a new group if you find yourself being there for the group and gaining anything in return. The book helps one find balance and happiness. The road to happiness according to Ms. Mueller is not being a martyr never meeting your own needs nor is it living right in your comfort zone. She said that many parents surveyed say that they want their children to be happy while the parent is miserable sacrificing so much for others. That was quite a thought provoking statement to me as she pointed out how being miserable is what is modeled for the next generation in these cases and the cycle repeats.

Ms. Mueller is also the author of 8 to Great: The Powerful Process for Positive Change. These are the 8 steps that can be tailored for audiences of young children to business professionals. 1. Get the Picture 2. Risk 3. Full Responsibility 4. Feel All Your Feelings 5. Honest Communication 6. Forgiveness of the Past. 7. Gratitude for the present 8. Hope for the Future. The last three steps are referred to as the FHE formula. I will not elaborate on all the steps. One of the crucial steps is allowing ourselves to feel all our emotions. She points out how we can feel mad or sad and not be stuck in these emotions as some people who become mad at being mad and sad about being sad.

Many of the principles in Ms. Mueller’s book are helping At Risk Students to have better attitudes and behavior and to stay in school. Her message is helping both students and adults move towards their dreams instead of running from them while finding more joy in the present.

Lisa Tonjes Moritz is one such person. After reading about her success on the 8 to Great facebook page, I requested a testimonial from her. She said, “I have always tried to be a positive person but going through MK's training at a time I was single and unemployed, really taught me to "Get the Picture" and live my life in Gratitude. MK became a friend and was a big boost in helping me start my first business. I am calling 2015, My 8 To Great year because it has been 8 years since I sat in her living room and then started HOPE organizing. MANY great things have happened but I am ready for some big change this year that with make it GREAT.”

I knew that Ms. Mueller was part of the back story of a golden ticket to Hollywood by a young man in my area as it was featured on the local news. I did not know until reading her book how the techniques in 8 to Great were so critical in his securing the coveted golden ticket.

During 12th grade religion class my teacher told the class that Ms. Mueller was a gift to the school. Given the fact that this teacher was quite instrumental in my life as she had also been my 8th grade religion teacher and 9th grade English teacher, I appreciated her endorsement. Classmates readily agreed. Once I had a conversation with a student from a different grade who I do not know the identify at this time who was in a leadership capacity and was part of the Campus Ministry that Ms. Mueller led at the time relay how neat she felt Ms. Mueller was in our brief conversation. Although I have not sought any information from classmates or Ms. Mueller regarding the content of our class other than questions about stretching and the chant as I wanted this to be my memories, I did have classmates add recently that they really learned a lot from her and enjoyed her class.

I have enjoyed reading testimonials of her recent work as an international speaker and trainer. This is one of many :

“MK is authentic. She devoted time to listen to and understand our needs. For me MK's message is something that resonates through how I was raised and who I am. It is not a quick fix or touchy feely. It is a way of life that can help in all aspects of a person’s life. We brought her in for an in-service and now have trained myself and seven staff in her process. If you have time to read 8 to Great or watch some of the Youtube videos on themk8togreat channel, you will get a brief snap shot of what you will experience with MK. She is the real deal.”

- Patrick Crowdis, Spearville MS/HS Principal, KS

Although she has grown so much as a person since she taught my 10th grade class, the person described by Crowdis seems so familiar to me.

-population-we™ blog post by Barb Bohan
© 2015 population-we, LLC 
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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post, Barb. It brings back good memories of a great teacher. I had her for speech in tenth grade too. Mary Kay Mueller was ahead of her time in many ways. I don't think I ever heard the word "feminism" in high school, but MKM taught it in subtle ways for which I am grateful. I am so happy to hear of her success and her empowering work.