Dunker retires: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past"

Alec Maier, Reporter


Allison Cook/The Explorer    


     This year, Nancy Dunker, one of the most seasoned and beloved teachers at the high school, bows out after an influential and devoted 35-year career. When she first strode into this school, Jimmy Carter was president, gas was just over a dollar per gallon and “Call Me” by Blondie was perched at No.1 on the billboard charts. Intense, quick-witted and blunt, yet caring just the same, students agree: Dunker relentlessly conditioned her kids to be better readers, writers, speakers and even people. She was never one to be denied of her goals, even when completing her own education in an environment that was, relative to today, considerably more hostile toward females. Hence, it should come as no surprise that she launched into her hard-earned career guns-a-blazing.
     “Don’t cheat, or do you know what will happen?” she states before almost every quiz or test. Then, after pausing to hear the mumbled response, she says: “Yes, you’ll burn in hell.”
     While she is now a hardened veteran, the students she meets each year are certainly not. Students arrive with writing skills in dire need of a good sharpening on the Dunker grindstone — or, in the most extreme cases, a melting and re-forging in the Dunker smithy. However arduous the challenge, Dunker gladly meets it with a wave of her trademark green ink, scribbling corrections and suggestions with her refined and (mostly) legible script.  
     It would be a travesty if “The Explorer” didn’t ask her a few questions.

     What has changed over the years with the school, your students, the curriculum, etc.?
     What has changed the most would be technology. Spelling and vocabulary have gone downhill because of abbreviations, spellcheck and grammar check. The concentration here at Hudson has definitely become more data-driven, with APs being the focus and of course this, my final year, being fondly dubbed “The Year of the Test.” But, kids are the same. They have energy; they have potential. They want to learn, for the most part. If we just keep them going in a clear direction, they tend to arrive. But it’s the technology and the philosophy that have changed the most.

     Do you have one moment that stands out in your career? If so, what is it?
     Any day is a good day when I learn something from one of my students, but I would have to say last year when I taught Science Fiction, which I really loved to read, when an autistic young man with a severe anxiety disorder helped me teach the class. Somebody was picking on him, and said, “Well, what kind of zombies are there?” He said, “I’m glad you ask. There are those that are zombies as a result of pathogens. There are those that are zombies that are exposed to alien life forms. There are those that have been ‘biblically afflicted,’” and my favorite, and I quote: “‘idiopathic’ zombies, which we have no idea why they’re zombies.” He trusted me to be in my class and taught me basically how to teach science fiction.

     If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
     My superpower would be to save the planet – to get us back to an equilibrium where we are not experiencing climate change and coral reefs dying and extinction. Because right now I don’t think, because of our greed, [that] we even deserve to live on this planet.

     On a scale of 1-10, rate “The Catcher in the Rye.” Would you care to explain?
     Shoot. I’m not a devotee of “Catcher in the Rye.” For me it’s a 5; I didn’t feel the teenage angst. I was taught to not complain and to not be a whiner. I know Holden has problems and his brother died from Leukemia, but I just wasn’t raised by that “cadre of Polish women” to sit back. I hope Holden gets out of the mental institution, and I would much rather talk about “The Great Gatsby.”

     What are your emotions when you realize you are retiring?
     I will miss the first day of school. I will miss the teenage energy and the things that I think keep me young. I will not miss getting up at 5:15. I will not [be] experiencing extreme Catholic guilt when I try to watch a movie even though I have papers to grade, or when I try to read for pleasure knowing I should be re-reading “The Great Gatsby” for the 27,000th time. So I won’t miss the guilt, but I will definitely miss my colleagues. But, I’m ready for the next phase. [I’ll] write the great American novel, learn to arrange flowers and possibly decorate a cake.

     Do you have any advice with which you want to leave students with?
     It’s not all about money. Happiness is not measured in money. Happiness is measured in people and in making a difference and in devoting the energy into training a puppy or asking why someone is sad. My advice is: don’t chase the almighty dollar — but, you know, don’t live under an off-ramp in Akron. You know we don’t have off-ramp weather.  But, it’s not about how many windows are in your house or if it’s air-conditioned. It’s about liking who you are when you crawl into bed at the end of the day.



2015-05-19 08:44:06