A Class with Moxie!

To teach is a gift, but to also inspire is extraordinary. I still vividly and fondly remember my most influential teachers, those possessing a certain magic. Inside Newtown Middle School, there’s a unique classroom. Part hands-on workshop, part retro-museum, this amazing class was constructed by an equally fantastic teacher.

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Mention Donald Ramsey to students past and present, and they light up. In the field for thirty-seven years, Mr. Ramsey teaches Technology Education to seventh and eighth grade. This unique class uses the application of science plus math in a hands-on way, encompassing industrial arts, transportation, communication, and history.

Starting out as a vocational teacher at an alternative high school, Mr. Ramsey later served in administration but missed being in the classroom. “I didn’t feel as connected to the kids”. He had a dream for an interdisciplinary classroom in a shop setting – combining different subjects typically taught in schools. Inspired by a book read in college, Mr. Ramsey felt subjects could all be interrelated, covered under the umbrella of technology.

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Students attend Technology Education as a “special’, a series of rotating classes taken for a six-week session. At orientation, parents were in awe of the classroom bursting with color, to-scale models, and gadgets. Mr. Ramsey says the space lends itself to the interdisciplinary idea, with scientific and historical items combined with student-made projects and gadgets of his own interest. Influenced by an uncle who loved hot-air ballooning, Mr. Ramsey hopes the room inspires kids with dynamic things in motion.

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IMG_0381The decor started with unique items found at tag sales and flea markets Mr. Ramsey thought would spark kids’ interests, brought in as a sort of “show and tell”. Students were fascinated! Soon kids, parents, and others were bringing in and donating all sorts of things. Many items are hand-made, getting kids interested in things besides today’s electronic devices. Mr. Ramsey says, “Kids should be connected to the historical and human value of things.” He adds, “Craftsmanship has lost favor to a ‘throwaway society’. Craftsmanship is one of the best parts of humanity. Flaws are beautiful.”

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Maritime items are a nod to Mr. Ramsey's great grandfather and grandfather - both were Bath, Maine sea captains.

Maritime items are a nod to Mr. Ramsey’s great grandfather and grandfather – both were Bath, Maine sea captains.

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This antique wood

This antique wood-working bench was built by Mr. Ramsey’s great-grandfather from Wooster, MA.

It’s not just the room that inspires, it’s Mr. Ramsey’s devotion to students and the art of teaching. Though technology changes, shaping history as it goes along, Mr. Ramsey says kids are kids – their trials are timeless. Middle school’s a difficult age, one Mr. Ramsey remembers well. “Sometimes a student lacks motivation due to other things going on. Everybody’s gifted in their own way”. It was a teacher who first recognized that Mr. Ramsey was good in logic, and that recognition changed his whole life. “A surgeon helps one person at a time. A teacher can inspire a generation and break a cycle of failure.” Mr. Ramsey adds that he also learns from his students and that “to inspire…to motivate…is to validate. The students come to the table with their own experiences and passions. Success is based on discovering one’s passion; teaching should be a partnership, a facilitator to help discover students’ interests. Everyone’s unique. If kids know you care about them, they’ll learn. The subject is the vehicle to reach the student.“ Flourishing in his class, my daughter was sorry when her time in Technology Education class was up. She still pops in to visit, as do many others, including alumni.

IMG_0379Mr. Ramsey’s favorite pieces on display are sentimental and nostalgic, mostly projects made and donated by students. An example is the Archimedes’ screw made by a female student who still visits. She went on to attend Nonnewaug High School’s Agricultural program. Female students participate in a class that they might not have gotten to in past eras. Mr. Ramsey states, “Technology is not gender-specific.”

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This to-scale model the freedom towers was made and donated by a past student.

This to-scale model of the freedom towers was made and donated by a past student aspiring to be an architect.

This buoy beacon was donated by the coast guard.

This buoy beacon was donated by the coast guard.

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An electronically-heated steam engine

An electronically-heated steam engine

A tie rack loaded with zany ties, an example of students and teachers working together, is a student’s idea from ten years ago. She wanted to “take something ordinary and make it extraordinary”. The collection of student-made ties has grown to over 1,000, and Mr. Ramsey has kept every one of them. The “Moxie” tie he’s pictured in was in honor of the school’s “Retro Day”.

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Moxie is defined  as “energy, pep, courage, determination, and spirit.” The word originated from a vintage New England soda company, most popular before 1930. After nationwide marketing, “moxie” found its way into the English dictionary. Mr. Ramsey first heard of it in Maine on a rafting trip. He loves the nostalgia combined with the message to learn without being afraid to try new things, something he has tried to do throughout life. (He’s currently learning the trumpet for the first time ever). Mr. Ramsey’s motto in and out of the classroom is “Live and learn with moxie!” He’s doing a great job of teaching with moxie, too.

Did you or your kids have a teacher who taught with ‘moxie’, too? Leave them a shout out in comments!

Until next time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

 

 

 

Leave a comment 31 Comments

  1. Luanne Bailey says:

    How well I remember the real “Moxie” – great to see some of their advertising in your pics. For anybody outside New England, Moxie is a soda pop that is sweet and a little bitter at the same time. I haven’t seen it since I moved to PA in the 1980’s!!!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Luanne, I myself had not heard of it until my daughter told me all about it from Mr. Ramsey’s class. I had, of course, heard the expression, ‘moxie”. I now have a can of the soda sitting in my office on a shelf, but have not ever tasted it. It is still regionally available. The outside of the can is pop art in itself. Now you are making me curious to try it…Thanks for stopping by! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  2. ulla christensen says:

    Wow, what a picture! Nice collection the teather has done.
    Good work Nicole.
    Love Torben an Ulla

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hej Mor, Hej Far, Tak! It is a very cool room, indeed. Audrey learned so much in the six weeks she was in the class, too. Everyday she came home excited to tell us about what she learned. I was a bit worried when she had to do a to-scale project and she decided to make a model of Edmond Town Hall. She used Kim’ tools, and wanted no assistance. In the end, her project was amazing! It is sitting on a shelf, and we are so proud of her. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  3. Adrienne says:

    I’ve been blessed to have many great teachers over the years: Miss Hanson, the missionary who made her way out of the jungles of Brazil after her guide was killed and took over the sixth grade class when our teacher died a week into the semester, and who changed our lives by teaching us Spanish, Portuguese and how to make a shrunken head; Mr. Anderson who believed I could play the violin and gave me a lifelong appreciation of music; my friend Kenn who said, “When you teach, don’t bore your students.” It must have worked because I’m looking at the Faculty of the Year plaque on the wall awarded by the students at the college where I taught English, study skills, developmental reading, developmental writing, developmental grammar, Shakespeare, literature and psychology, etc. It’s really a shame when an athlete is paid more than the teacher who gave him the life skills and knowledge to have a great present as well as a promising future. Sigh.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Adrienne, wow! Congratulations on having been awarded that “Faculty of the Year” award. That is an awesome achievement. You know there are students out there who would name you as an inspiration in their lives…that must be such a great feeling. What interesting teachers you had! Love this comment. Thanks so much for sharing. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

    • susana says:

      You are so right…athletes make way too much money….teachers should make more…. instead they fork over much of their pay for students work supplies for those students who …either forget their paper and pens or who can’t afford them.I think every city should have a donation bin for students school supplies ( pens, composition books, writing tablets, etc) so teachers can have a decent wage….and not have to worry about other students bring prepared. Because many teachers give their students those supplies when they try to teach. I know because my daughter is a teacher and many of her students don’t come to school with paper or pens or what they need to learn. And teachers dont get reimbursed for these things either!

      • Nicole Christensen says:

        Hi Susana,

        I hear you. A good friend of mine is a teacher and I am amazed at what she puts into her class to make her kids happy…out of her own pocket. Sounds like you raised a wonderful daughter, kudos to her for what she does. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  4. Debbie says:

    Hi Nicole! This is a fantastic post! I really spoke to my homeschooling heart. It’s so wonderful to see out of the box teaching ideas in place in public schools… We all know they’re out there, we just don’t hear enough about it. My memory of a teacher with Moxie goes out to my 9th grade history teacher. He brought history alive in his class! Rather than sticking with the boring text book way, he instead chose to read allowed to the class. When we studied the tragic story of The Donner Party he read the entire book to us in a 6 week block. Every day he sat on a stool in front of his desk and read. Sometimes kids fell asleep, ( we were sleep-starved teenagers after all) but most of the time we were on the edge of our seats as he read to us in his deep narrative tone. He was a history buff outside the classroom as well. He spent his spare time studying ( and visiting ) Nevada Ghost Towns and Western American History. Imagine, reading allowed to a group of high school freshmen today? I remember dozing off one time, only to be awakened by the loud pop of a small mini-cannon he kept in his classroom. He was great about it. We all had a good laugh over it! I loved him and his class AND I got a B in the class which never would have happened to this daydreaming freshmen with a different teacher. So, thank you Mr. Horelacker for teaching with “Moxie”! And, thank YOU Nicole for this wonderful post. What an amazing man your Mr. Ramsey is and how lucky for his students!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Deb, Thank you so much! I love your comment. I was chuckling at the mini cannon! Hilarious! Sounds like your Mr. Horelacker was an awesome teacher, as well. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. Joan says:

    I want to go to school there – oh but I can’t because I am – well in my own school of ‘old age’ and loving it BUT what a spectacular way to learn. Too bad there aren’t more schools with teachers, encouragers, leaders like this. Good luck to Mr. ‘Moxie’ Ramsey in learning the trumpet – get the lip. Thanks Nicole for sharing – great inspiration. God bless.

  6. What a guy! What a classroom. Thanks for sharing such fantastic stuff. He’s influencing kids in a totally unmeasurable way. Years will go by and some adult will figure out how wonderful his/her life is because of this man.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Slyvia, I agree! Imagine how many lives he has touched in thirty-seven years. Our school is lucky to have him. I am so thankful my daughter enjoys her middle school like she does. Thanks for commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  7. Nicole Christensen says:

    My turn! One favorite teacher was my fourth grade teacher at Sharpstown Christian School in Houston, Mrs. Sandy Jackson. In her class, we read a book about the civil war, and she presented it in such a way that I have always had an interest in anything from that period of time. She had a baby in 1982, yet still taught school that year and managed to make time for us kiddos after school as an awesome Girl Scout leader. I remember being so excited to go to school everyday…she made learning fun.

    Another teacher that I won’t ever forget is Ms. Bernadette Aboud from Pershing Middle school. She taught French. When I was in her class, I had been transferred to a middle school where I knew no one. She must have sensed that it was a difficult year for me (middle school age is awkward as it is), and she made me feel like she took me “under her wing”. She had us kids always doing things beyond learning plain ol’ french. She had us learn the can-can and perform it for the school, and at Christmas, she arranged a “Progressive Dinner” for the French club. It was so special, with “buche-de-noel” for dessert. Her stories made me want to travel and learn about other cultures! As an adult years later, when my husband took me to Paris, I thought about Ms. Aboud when I stood at the top of the Eiffel tower. :)

    Farmgirl Hugs,
    Nicole

  8. Dori Troutman says:

    Nicole, the thought I kept having when I read this post was, “The kids in that school are SO LUCKY”! He is a one-in-a-million. What a special man. And what an awesome classroom… I would love to visit that room! I’d like to have about half of that stuff in my house and the other half in my husband’s work shop! Ha Ha! Thanks for sharing, I loved it! – Dori, the Ranch Farmgirl –

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Dori! Thanks so much, glad you enjoyed the post. I am laughing because that is exactly what I said…I especially LOVE the tin Studebaker sign! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  9. Beverly Battaglia says:

    What a teacher, Nicole! I could not believe his classroom is in a public school either.
    He really does have “moxie”! I would love to have been in a class like his when I was young. I remember Ms. Aboud but not Mrs. Jackson at Sharpstown Christian School.
    My most inspirational teacher was my third grade and low fourth grade, (we had low and high grades in the forties and fifties), teacher, Mrs. Helen Hayes in Houston, Texas. She had a citizenship club for our class with a notebook and we did a short talent show every Wednesday. The notebook had lessons on Honesty, Loyalty, Tact, Cooperation, Friendliness, etc. We spoke of all these good character traits every week and then I sang a song, and a boy and girl in the class did a tap dance for us.
    My high school speech teacher called “Pappy” by all the students was loved by everyone. He taught me how to speak correctly and inspired me to do public speaking.
    Your pictures in this blog are wonderful. Loved reading it. Wish all school teachers were like your Mr. Ramsey. Love you,
    Mother

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Wow, Mom! I did not know all this! Audrey is indeed having a great year, loving school because of wonderful teachers like Mr. Ramsey. A great teacher makes for a great experience. Isn’t that classroom amazing? The pictures don’t do it justice! Love you, Mom. -Nicole

  10. Marge Hofknecht says:

    What a beautiful tribute to this hard-working teacher! My husband is a retired teacher and I’ve heard him often talk about getting students excited about the learning experience. It’s a real art, so to speak. One of my most memorable teachers was Mr. Richard Town, my 11th grade history teacher. He didn’t have a room all decorated like Mr. Ramsey’s but he did inspire in me a love of history. He was funny and down to earth and made a subject that many think as boring just really come alive. Here’s a shout out to all those teachers who put their hearts and souls into their profession and live to inspire their students to learn.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Marge, I love that…teaching is indeed an art. Your husband sounds like he was a great teacher, too. Thanks for the beautiful comment here. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  11. Nancy Zychek says:

    Mr. Ramsey is indeed an inspiring teacher! Your daughter is very lucky to have him. I’m a high school teacher and it is not easy to motivate and inspire students today. It is so wonderful when students get excited about what they are learning in school and even more wonderful when they come back to visit and tell you that you made a difference in their lives. That’s what keeps us going. I’m sure that ‘s what keeps Mr Ramsey going.
    My fifth grade teacher is the teacher in my life who had moxie. Mrs. Kaplan made every subject interesting. I always liked to be creative and she nurtured that interest. She had a little group after school that helped decorate the bulletin boards for each month. She also taught us to sing together as a class. I remember the experience of all of our voices finally blending together after many attempts. The whole class felt a feeling of bonding. It was in her class that I actually got the courage to speak I front of the class to try out for a poetry contest. I didn’t win the contest but had that experience to build on.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Nancy, I can imagine how difficult it must be to teach high school nowadays. It must really be wonderful to have students come back and say you made a difference. Kudos to you and other teachers like you for doing what you do. Thank you for “stopping by” Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  12. Lisa Lahey says:

    Thank you for honoring my step-dad. A well written piece.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Lisa,

      Oh, thank you! It was an honor to write this piece. Your step-dad is a wonderful man. My daughter and other students are blessed to know him.

      Farmgirl Hugs,
      Nicole

  13. susana says:

    I can remember several teachers but only two stand out, one good and one bad memory of their behaviors. The one bad teacher….he’s probably dead by now, I had him for art in high school…and nothing I did seem to evoke a praise from him….and then he needed to know why I would paint everything brown and black…..I was depressed in his class. All he did was brag about his own artistic prominence. He’s paint murals on the chalkboard. But was very critical towards everyone, even his niece who was in my class. I realized later why she was always so dejected and never ventured out of her shell.or should I say…Hell? Because he was a terrible teacher to everyone but those rich kids!( I won’t mention his name, because he’s not worth mentioning….I want to forget him, because he affected my life so much…I stopped painting because of him!)

    But the OnE teacher I loved made the best/affect on my life….because she practice what she preached. She taught us to respect others no matter he bad we felt. She would ever embarrass her students when they did something wrong, but she’d ask them to come up to her desk, get the student to sit down or stand very close to her, and she’d whisper all she said so no one would know what she said….I will never forget what she said to me…that I looked like Mona Lisa and she explained to me who she was, and she’d would lecture as she went, talking you as if she were a nurse to a patient. Man I wish we had more patient teachers like her. She captivated my attention and motivated me to dream! And she gave me responsibilities…. because she saw my potential in me….I became a safety patrol, took it quite serious. She opened up my mind to better uses of the time I had in her class. She made me the head honcho over a project, building a castle and getting supplies for the other kids. Before that class I couldn’t care less about history….but she connected it to me on a personal level….its why I love history and geneaology today. She/expanded my horizons! Its what a good teacher does…. teach and reach into the hearts of her students….Mrs. J was my greatest teacher! May she rest in peace with the fact that she was a great teacher. She pased away. But I will always remember her with gratefulness….she was there for me in the sixth grade….But her influence lasted my whole life…because I can still hear her cheering and rooting me on.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Susana,

      Your history teacher sounds like she was a wonderful, inspiring teacher. You should start painting again…as a tribute to her!

      Farmgirl Hugs,
      Nicole

      • susana says:

        Thanks for that encouragement! I been trying to paint on cloth for quilting, but I had a stroke and lost my photographic memory and it causes me to stutter n my thoughts, so any SRT project is a struggle, but I smash remember what my teacher taught….you need to preservers no matter what adversary trues to prevent you! May it be poverty, health or just depression, she was right, do I push to be what she desired in me, not perfection, but persistance in all I undertake! I still hear her rooting me onward and upward! To complete the tasks at hand and do all to the glory of G*d. Right thinking keeps you on track! Slowly BuT surely all win the race, just at different speeds!

        • Nicole Christensen says:

          Susana, I love your attitude! Bless your heart, you are an inspiration. Thank YOU for the life lesson. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  14. Denise says:

    What an amazing person. Lot inspire a generation would be fantastic. It certainly takes a particular person to do this. I think my form 3 English teacher is one that I adored. She took me under her wing and encouraged me. Something that I really needed at that time in my life.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Denise,

      Wonderful teachers like yours are like little guardian angels. Awesome. Thanks for commenting.

      Farmgirl Hugs,
      Nicole

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