Friday, June 4, 2010

Jo-Ann Intlekofer Retires After Touching Thousands of Hearts

I knew Jo-Ann Intlekofer as the popular science teacher at my son Eric’s middle school, but our friendship began one fall evening in 1990. I was reading to my youngest child, who was sick with a sore throat, when I heard a knock at the door.

        I opened to see Jo-Ann standing on my front porch, her short brown hair framing her rosy, friendly face. My son, Eric, a seventh grader who was supposed to be at a soccer game somewhere north of Baltimore, stood behind her.
She held both arms out to me and said, “We had a little problem at the game…” at which point Eric stepped into full view and I saw that his forearm was bent like a hanger two inches above the wrist. “… and I thought if it were my son, I’d want him home, so Davy and I drove him here.” Davy, a fourth grader, waved from the car window.
         “It’s broken,” I said and she nodded.  “We iced it, but I thought you’d want him to see a doctor sooner than later.”

         This incident exemplifies one of the many facets of Jo-Ann’s role as a teacher. After a full day’s work in which she was teaching and reaching a hundred children, she went to cheer on the middle school soccer team, because “I love seeing those kids run in the sunshine!” Her kindness and sympathy to Eric and to me could never be applauded enough. She lives the golden rule, but really without a thought of her own needs, more interested is she in the well-being of those around her. And she has done things like this every teaching day for over thirty years.

        Jo-Ann and I became friends after that. In addition to our shared faith, it turns out we loved all the same things: kids, good books, flowers, wholesome food and cooking it, sewing and quilting, creating etc. etc. And so when I decided to return to school in pursuit of a teaching certificate, I naturally turned to Jo-Ann for advice.

         All through my studies, Jo-Ann helped me make sense of the principles of education. She was happy to talk about what I was learning and reading. And during the first years that I taught, I talked to her nearly every day, in long conversations during which she mentored and helped me. Not only did she know the work and the principles behind good, sound educational practice, but she loved talking about teaching and students’ learning. I cannot possibly say how much I appreciated having someone who was kind and patient enough to listen, to advise wisely and to encourage me. It helped me figure out what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. Her friendship and help meant peace and a growing confidence to me.

         Jo-Ann taught me these vital teaching principles:
1.    The first week of the school year sets the tone so begin by…
2.    Never talking over them. This may sound simple, but she insisted and I proved in my classroom, that if the teacher works at achieving quiet attention, the class is engaged and everyone is happier. After all…
3.    Students want to learn. It’s the teacher’s job to help them do it by…
4.    Making the target clear and helping the student hit that target. What this means is that the teacher’s goals for the student’s learning must be clear, must be specific, and must be able to be perceived by the student. No one can hit a target they can’t see or don’t believe is pertinent to them. Setting the target is just one way a teacher should…
5.    Make learning happen in the classroom. I love this axiom of Jo-Ann’s.  It made so much sense to me.  It’s not enough to preach it from the lectern or make them read it. No, the learning, the grasping of the concept and skill must be made palpable and alive to the student.  What a beautiful challenge for the classroom teacher!

There are enough more of Jo-Ann’s axioms and principles, golden methods and ideas, enough to fill a volume or two…

Jo-Ann has always been a team player at school. She never complains about other teachers’ programs. Remember the soccer game? She’s that way about band and choir concerts, etc. etc. Jo-Ann found recordings of what the band was learning and played it in the background while her students completed their science projects. Committed to academic excellence, interested in every subject, her vision for teaching has been an exciting and open-hearted thing.

Another of Jo-Ann’s sayings, “It costs you nothing to be gracious” is one she applied to her interaction with both students and parents. Though it’s not true, being gracious costs a great deal—namely pride and discipline—she made this difficult feat seem easy and natural. 

She has shown a wonderful knack for talking to parents. During any discussion with parents, whether a causal meeting at a school concert or a formal conference, Jo-Ann mentioned good things she saw in her students. It was her idea that after calling home for misbehavior, the teacher should try to call again the moment improvement is seen. Students need “good work!” phone calls, too.

        This practice exemplifies her outlook toward students’ behavior. She cheers on student improvement in the classroom as she did on the soccer field loving to see them achieve their best, yearning to see them become all that God meant them to be. This has been her hope and vision for all her students whatever their gifts or capabilities.  She advised me to pray that I be given the gift of being able to see a student as God saw them.  This is a gift indeed and one that Jo-Ann has practiced to the benefit of so many.

        How many times has a student’s name come up when Jo-Ann exclaims, “I love that kid!” or “I adore that child!” No child too rough, or obnoxious or timid or bold, no child too wild, or smart or reluctant. She loved them all and she loved them individually. Her example of love and hope has been one of the most touching. It’s hard to imagine a teacher anywhere, at any school, in any nation, in any era, more full of hope and more steady in love, more exuberant or astute in appreciation than Jo-Ann Intlekofer.

        It has been her goal to live as a picture of Christ to her students. Her husband, Walter, encouraged her to do this and his steady support, both spiritual and financial helped her succeed for many years. To her students and colleagues she has given herself, putting them always first in a life full of compassion, truth, faith, care and encouragement. Her rule was to give the benefit of the doubt; she said she’d rather trust and be disappointed than suspect and judge unfairly.

        If a student struggled Jo-ann was fond of saying,  “It’s time to have a little discussion with him or her.” This meant that Jo-Ann would identify the problem, help the student create a plan for changing and try to give the student a vision of what life would be like when he or she conquered the challenge ahead of them and conquer it, Jo-Ann knew, he surely would.

As a friend, Jo-Ann is faithful and cheerful. As she listened to me reason about academics, she listened to me struggle through some of life’s baffling questions. She’s stood by me through hard times and lonely times. She’s rejoiced with me in blessings. She has loved my children as individuals, lavishing on each of them just the sort of attention he or she needed at the time. And she has done this for so many people.

With a capacity for happiness and enjoyment rivaled by none, Jo-Ann loves beauty. She admires virtue, learning and skill. She’s dedicated to the well-being of all those she knows. Here is a person who grieves when anyone is ill, who prays with a fierce and courageous faith, who cannot bear for any child to be hurt.

Rather, she wishes every child be well-loved and well-taught. She told me once that she is always moved during school chapels as she looks around and sees the different faces, the different hair and skin tones, the expressions on their faces lifted in song. She loved her job and she did it faithfully and well.

A writing critic once said that the women I portray in my fiction are too generous, too loving, too capable of enjoying life, too apt to self-sacrifice, too prone to be satisfied with creating life and beauty. If it is so, it is because of the examples that have surrounded me in my life; Jo-Ann being chief example of such heroism, the brightest and best example among ten thousand.

I love you and I admire you will all my heart, Jo-Ann! Thank you!


  1. Oh Loris....thank-you for putting into words my very similar thoughts on Jo-Ann! You have brought tears to my eyes! :-) Can't wait to see her and give her a hug........see you soon!


  2. Loris, You truly captured Jo-Ann --Thank you. Lin

  3. What a great tribute to a gifted teacher and a wonderful woman! Donna

  4. Very touching tribute to a beautiful and giving woman!

  5. Beautifully written, Loris. I agree with each word. Jo Ann is one happy, supportive, and loving woman!

  6. I remember...

    In middle school, our older son had written a parody for the first paragraph of the Constitution "We the people.." She found it on the classroom floor and saved it for me. When she gave it to me she said, "This is brilliant! Save it for Senior year and give it to him."

    When our younger son entered middle school, she said to me..."I was so happy to see the roster for this year. I get another Kaiser boy!" I know she meant it. It warmed my soul.

    God bless Joann as she has blessed ALL of us.

    Terre Kaiser