Throughout their years at Orcas Island High School, students are faced with a myriad of challenges, new adventures, and surprises. As we grow and change, memories of these times may fade, but there are certain aspects of the high school experience that can never be forgotten, as they are so sharply ingrained in our minds. For example, every student and former student knows the gut-wrenching feeling, burning face, and senseless stammering that inevitably occurs when one enters the wrong classroom and is met with twenty cold and questioning stares. Thankfully, high school is not entirely composed of such arduous lessons, and the memories that remain with us the longest are those of the people who touched our lives and minds with the most compassion and sincerity. It is no wonder then that the face of any Orcas High School student will light up at the mention Mrs. Collister’s name. High school history teacher Mrs. Kathleen Collister has made a positive impact on just about every student at OIHS. From the first day of freshman Human Geography, to the day of AP testing, to graduation, she has served as a role model and advocate for all her pupils. Students adore her confidence and fortitude and her willingness to express her opinion in any circumstance. Over the years, Collister has taught her students the importance of perseverance, individualism, courage, and, most importantly, humor.
Collister has been teaching for over fourteen years, and has greatly enjoyed her time at Orcas Island High School. She has recently announced, however, that she will be retiring at the end of the 2014-15 school year, and is looking forward to a trip to Portugal with her husband, as well as time to garden, write, and play with her beloved dog Sophie. However, as she has always been one to speak her mind and open up to students, Collister still has much she wishes to impart to the student body before retiring, and was excited to be interviewed by the school paper, for which she has been a great supporter. When asked about her career as a teacher and what she has learned over the years as a result of her profession, she laughed and replied that it has certainly allowed her to extend her patience. She went on to say that teaching has really taught her the importance of humor, and that it is “vital in the face of atrocity.” “I have learned how to be more empathetic,” she continued, “and that the subject matter isn’t the most important thing going on in the class room, but the interpersonal learning is.” She then noted that she had learned a great deal from her students over the years. “My students have taught me that learning is a two way street. You can’t learn from someone unless you understand their background and where they are coming from.” This awareness has certainly allowed Collister to be successful in the classroom. In reaching out to her students and expressing an earnest interest in each individual, she is able to connect with her students and build the trust that is necessary in a healthy classroom environment. Collister then explained that the hardest thing about teaching is preparing students for the AP tests. “It is a troubling challenge. The biggest challenge is teaching and learning that failure isn’t always bad. Success isn’t what teaches us life’s lessons. It is failure that teaches us that.” Even though teaching has its challenges and pit falls, Collister feels that everything was completely worthwhile. “My students are the future. They are the hope for positive change in this world. Seeing the growth of the students over the years makes it all worth it. Seeing them as children at the start of freshman year, and then seeing them as young adults on graduation day. Watching that process is a thrill. It is my job to help students learn to think critically and I love that.”
Collister has had a lot of fun teaching at OIHS and expressed that her fondest memory is of the trip she took with a group of students to see the 2013 inauguration of President Barack Obama. “Realizing that my students would always have that memory and that I would be a part of it was amazing.” This inauguration in and of itself was also a dream come true for Collister. “I love ceremony, it touches me emotionally. I told my students that it was an opportunity to see Mrs. Collister cry.” Collister has also greatly enjoyed participating in the staff lip-syncs during the high school Home Coming week. “It is something that I have looked forward to at the start of every school year.” Of course, as with any job, there are a few things that Collister wont miss when she retires. “I wont miss staff meetings. I wont miss the angst felt by some of my collogues.” She also explained that while teaching is enjoyable on the whole, there are some aspects that are really hard to deal with. “I wont miss the defensiveness of students. It is really hard to break though that. The defenses young people put up are interesting and can be frustrating and astounding.” Nevertheless, it is the students and student life that Collister believes she will miss the most. “I will miss all the drama and the action. I will miss opening the students’ eyes and seeing the expressions on their faces when they see something new.” Surprisingly, she also foresees missing her classroom (save for the clattering heating vent), which has been her hide away and home away from home for ten years now.
More than anything, Collister hopes that she has passed on a few life lessons to her students over the years that will assist them as they continue to grow throughout their lives. History, geography, and politics aside, the most important lesson Collister has attempted to instill in her students is that of the importance of humor. “Life would not be worth living if there wasn’t humor. Humor is what makes it possible for us to deal with tragedy in our lives. We must remember that sadness will always pass, and then you can look back on the hard times and use them to get through the next sadness or tragedy. Without humor we would be lost. It is important to laugh at yourself and not to take life too seriously.” Students quickly learned the importance of laughter, even in the work place, as Collister’s humor drew many students to her classes and held their attention throughout lectures and long Friday afternoons. Her relaxed manner allows students to be themselves and feel comfortable learning and engaging in class, but it is her positivity and supportive attitude that really touches students’ hearts. One always feels empowered and hopeful when leaving Collister’s class, and her final words of wisdom for the school reveal why: “Do what makes you happy. Choose the thing that is going to make you the happiest internally. Spread joy not sorrow, and always appreciate the people and things around you. This study of history passes that on. This world is constantly changing, so embrace flexibility and change.” The students of OIHS are going to be faced with a vast change when Collister retires, but are ready to take what they have learned in her classroom and apply it to their lives, for every one of her students has the tools needed to face life with good humor and be the positive change needed in the world today.