They met on a mountain in Japan, two strangers from different parts of the United States on a summer vacation. They began talking during the descent from the summit. There was something comfortable about their conversation as though they had known each other for a very long time. By the end of the hike they had decided to meet again over a meal where they exchanged contact information for when they returned to the States. They were both teachers of English who enjoyed reading, writing and traveling but it was a long way from Texas to California, their respective homes. Still, they were fascinated with one another and the friendship continued and then blossomed into a romance. Before long they were married and she was moving to Texas where a job at the school where he worked awaited. They were and still are a remarkable team.
They are Eric and Jenny Brunsell and they have spent years living and working happily first at Paul Revere Middle School, then KIPP Houston High School and finally Taylor High School. Beloved to both their coworkers and their students they dedicate themselves to teaching grammar, usage, writing and literature. Their classes are fun and they have a reputation for being caring and fair. They plan together and grade together for most of the year then they take exciting trips all over the world during the summer.
A few years ago Eric and Jenny agreed to sponsor the Academic Decathlon team at Taylor High School. The coaching requires and great deal of extra work on their part. They have to read and learn about whatever era or topic is chosen for a particular season. They often spend evenings providing extra practice for the members of the team and weekends accompanying the students to the competitions. The days and weeks of prepping the team and attending contests extend well beyond spring break. For Eric and Jenny it is fun and exciting to work with the students. They speak of their time with team with smiles that reveal how happy they are going the extra mile.
Each year Eric and Jenny have managed to take their team ever closer to a state championship. Such a feat requires great sacrifices of time and dedication on their part. They seem to revel in being able to provide the students with experiences that they will no doubt never forget. Coaches like Eric and Jenny touch the very hearts of the young people that they guide. That kind of extra effort never goes unnoticed.
When I was in high school working on the school newspaper was the extracurricular that most enchanted me. Our sponsor often worked with us until late in the evening and many times all weekend long so that we might deliver an edition in a timely fashion. She gave us responsibilities but she was right behind us making sure that we did not fail. Seeing the final copy of our hard work in all of its glory was electrifying, one the grandest moments of my four years of preparing for college. It would not have happened without that teacher’s willingness to give us the gift of her time and attention.
So it is with Eric and Jenny, model teachers. They work hard to deliver interesting lessons and to show their students the fundamentals of writing and critically analyzing all types of fiction and nonfiction. More importantly they have genuine concern for each and every one of their students. They have been known to quietly go out of their way to help someone in a state of crisis, someone struggling to understand a concept, someone who just needed someone to listen and provide encouragement. Their students know implicitly that the Brunsell’s classrooms are safe spaces where everyone is treated with great respect and dignity.
There are so many people today who act as though young people are silly, lazy, entitled, without a sense of direction. Eric and Jenny understand that nothing could be further from reality. They inspire their students and encourage them to follow their dreams. They are loved because they love. They learned long ago that they need not be stern and authoritarian to keep their students working hard. They need only be fair.
Three years ago Eric and Jenny’s home flooded during hurricane Harvey. Their community of friends and coworkers and students rallied around them in a show of appreciation for the wonderful educators that they are. The school hosted a shower to provide them with household items that had been ruined in the water. A group created a Go Fund Me page to raise funds for the cost of repairs. People opened their homes to them and offered the gift of their labor. Such is what happens when two people have a reputation for goodness and inspiration.
Good teachers like Eric and Jenny abound but more often than not we mostly hear about those who should never have been in a classroom from the start. It’s good to stop now and again to praise remarkable people like these two whose impact on the world will increase and multiply as those they have taught make their own marks on the world, no doubt remembering two teachers who made a difference in their lives.