Ms. Skanse was born in Warm Springs, Oregon, where her father took a job as a minister with the Presbyterian Church during the Great Depression. Her family then moved to Seattle, where she grew up. In 1982 she moved to Guam with her husband who was hired as a chaplain, and she began her job as the Lower School Religion Teacher at St. John’s School. Now in her 34th year working at St. John’s, Ms. Skanse shares some of her fondest memories, what motivates her to continue her service at St. John’s and how it has shaped her life.
You started teaching at St. John’s 34 years ago. What has changed since then?
Over 34 years there have been many changes in certain ways. SJS only went through grade 9 in the ’80’s. My 3 older children had to go to high school elsewhere; my first son was already in high school, my twin daughters came here in 8th grade but my youngest came in at grade 4 and graduated from here in 1991 since by that time we had added the high school.
We used to have 20-25 students in a class which has changed considerably. A lot of other Christian schools opened, creating greater competition. It used to be nearly 1/4 of the student body were military dependents. Then along came DODEA.
When I started the teachers were just getting introduced to using computers. Now we use lots of high tech.
Aside from being a religion teacher, what other activities are you involved in?
I love music, which is the area of my first degree (B.A. in Music from Seattle Pacific University along with a strong minor in Religion) so I am active in helping lead the chapel music here, also in leading the church’s (St. John’s Church) music, plus sing in the Guam Symphony Chorale and Cantate. In the late 90’s I was asked to take over the school’s Handbell Choir. It was a class for a while which had big participation, but now is a club that meets outside of class time
Gardening is another big interest of mine which is fulfilled on this campus in front of the office and church plus on the staff apartment grounds. That’s where I’ve come into contact with many bugs which I sometimes share with my students, giving me the subtitle “Bug Lady.”
Another big hobby is nutrition and cooking.
What is it about your job that you love the most?
Teaching at St. John’s has been a huge fulfillment in my life, using more of my talents than any other job I’ve had. I was hired to write a curriculum that would fulfill the Religion courses for a Christian school where possibly less than half the students are Christian. So I have done that for the Lower School grades, writing and illustrating the curriculum and I love teaching it. The students here tend to learn easily. They are so diverse, and very talented.
How would you describe your teaching style?
Jesus’ style of teaching included a lot of storytelling and since I love to tell stories my teaching style includes a lot of that, especially with the primary grades. I also like a multi-sensory approach. If you hear it, see it, touch it, taste and smell it (when applicable), then you are more likely to find it meaningful and learn it. In chapels the students really enjoy acting out stories and real life situations to teach morals and virtues. I think the students remember the songs and the dramas more than the classes.
It is important to truly love your students, care about each one, even the difficult ones, yet still be firm with your expectations.
What are your fondest memories working at St. John’s School?
I have so many great memories from teaching here. Some of them are funny (“Oh yes, I already knew God was invisible, we say it every day: ‘One nation, under God, invisible . . .” “Oh teacher, I really have to go to the restaurant, now!”). Some are when you see the light turn on in their eyes when they understand a concept. Some of the best are watching and hearing the youngest ones sing their hearts out in chapel. Doing a mini-Seder meal with 5th grade is especially memorable. Working with great, cooperative teachers is another one.
What do you want students to gain from having known you?
I want my students to believe in themselves, to truly love themselves as a special, wonderful person as you can’t love others as much as yourself unless you do. I hope I help them to be motivated to be the best they can be. All my students should know the importance of the Golden Rule.
This school has really shaped my life. Back in the 80’s the professional development program encouraged teachers to get a master’s degree, which I did with the school funding it partially. Many other features of professional development have had a big impact on my approach to teaching.