Nancy Plagens, who retired from teaching at Como Park Senior High School this spring, says that one of the best parts of teaching is “seeing the future.”
In fact, everything she says about teaching reflects her affection and concern for her students.
“The best part for me is having such a connection with the community,” she says. “I see my students, past and present, everywhere I go—in the neighborhood, in my church, at the grocery store. I will really miss knowing so many young people after I retire.”
Plagens grew up in Minnetonka and graduated from Macalester College with degrees in English and Social Studies in 1972. She taught at Bryant Junior High School in Minneapolis and at Kellogg High School in Roseville before taking a break to raise her three children, Elizabeth, Daniel and Genevieve.
She returned to public education in 1995, teaching two years at Hazel Park Junior High School and finally ending up at Como, where she has taught English and history and coordinated the school’s Advanced Placement program.
Asked if teaching has changed over the course of her employment, she says, “Not really. Technology means that the delivery changes, but the ideas remain the same. And kids are still kids—and I enjoy kids.”
At Como, Plagens has taught a variety of English and history courses, including American Government. In conjunction with the latter, she accompanied students to Washington, D.C., five times, with her husband, Steve, helping as a chaperone. The trips were part of Close Up, founded in 1971, a program that brings together students from all ethnic, religious, geographic and economic backgrounds to develop knowledgeable and engaged citizens through active and informed participation.
Another highlight of Plagens’ career has been working with the Advanced Placement classes. Como offers 22 courses, more than any other St. Paul high school. The program is very successful, allowing students to earn college credit. Plagens is gratified to have been a part of this program and to have contributed to Como’s success.
“Como is a great school because it’s large enough to offer a comprehensive program of academics, music, drama, sports, clubs and organizations, yet small enough so students can participate freely in whatever they choose,” Plagens says. “In other words, Como students do not have to ‘sit on the bench’ and watch while other students actually get to ‘play’ at their chosen activities.”
In September, Plagens plans to travel to Europe with her husband so she won’t miss the beginning of the school year so much. She also intends to do more volunteer work, especially with children. And, of course, there are her two (soon-to-be three) grandchildren to attend to.
She will do more reading, gardening and traveling, but she will always treasure her time teaching and seeing the future through her students.
Michelle Christianson is a piano teacher, musician and writer who lives in St. Anthony Park.