Some teachers teach more than just their subject

Bill Freund

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

PARKVILLE — Almost everyone remembers a teacher who taught by example, loved their craft and shared that love with their students. St. Therese School has a teacher like that, and word gets around.

Bill Freund, middle school social studies teacher, recently learned that the Sons of the American Revolution named him American History Teacher of the Year. Part of the reason he received this accolade may be his involving eighth graders in actual living history, especially that of local World War II veterans. Twice each year, veterans travel to Washington, D.C., on board Honor Flights, to visit the WW II Memorial. They depart Kansas City International Airport early in the morning, and return late that same night. About eight years ago, Freund saw an invitation on social media to welcome Honor Flight vets back to Kansas City. “I made the connection,” he recalled, “and my eighth graders met the vets at the airport. It was a late night for them, but an awesome experience. It was a way of thanking them for their service.”

The eighth graders write the veterans letters which are delivered during a mid-flight mail call on each Honor Flight, showing that “the kids do understand that freedom isn’t free. They know who paid the price for the privileges they enjoy,” Freund said. They also continue to meet them at the airport to greet them when an Honor Flight returns. Several weeks ago, “75 middle school kids looked the vets in the eye, offered a firm handshake and a sincere ‘thank you for your service.’ Many of the kids were joined by their parents. “The vets could see that young people really appreciate what they did.”

Freund grew up in Sedalia, attending Sacred Heart Grade and High School. Park College, now Park University, was his college choice, but he bluntly said, “I wouldn’t have finished college if an eccentric professor hadn’t made History so interesting I couldn’t get enough. He made it clear that what happened in the past was relevant then and today.” His love for history is evident: photographs, posters and graphics in the classroom all shout ‘history.’ One poster features a quote from President Harry S. Truman: “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.”

He’s been teaching at St. Therese School 27 years, so, “My own kids had me for a teacher, and they thought that was just awful!” Freund said, laughing. He considers his teaching style to be that of a story teller. “I hope my students remember the stories and use that stuff to make good decisions. I take my role as a Catholic school teacher seriously. Two pillars I want my students to always have are faith and prayer. I want them to understand the incredible importance of prayer.”

The Sons of the American Revolution recognition isn’t the first time Freund has been named teacher of the year. Last year, the Veterans of Foreign Wars named him their Teacher of the Year. His teaching style, the stories, and the extras his students grow to love, including greeting veterans at the airport and other special annual events for the eighth graders that seventh graders eagerly anticipate all contribute to the accolades.

One of those specials is the Breakfast Club. “About 20 years ago the eighth graders were looking for a Lenten activity. Somebody suggested the class attend 6:30 a.m. Mass together weekly, so I said, ‘I’ll bring breakfast.’ We now have the Breakfast Club every Wednesday. I make and bring breakfast burritos, others bring something and we have breakfast after the Liturgy. The eighth graders are graduating and the next Wednesday is the seventh graders first Breakfast Club. Apparently, they can’t wait.”

Freund’s philosophy is that eighth grade should be the year of their fondest grade school memories. For that reason, he takes the class haunted housing and pizza eating near Halloween, and later coordinates a Veterans’ Day Assembly at school. “This past year we took it on the road to the Riverstone Retirement Community. They loved it and so did the retirees!” The class goes Christmas caroling, tours the Capitol Building in Jefferson City in April, and Freund’s favorite, tours the Old Missouri Penitentiary. There the Missouri Highway Patrol shows the kids a video of texting and driving and what can happen.

When asked, what makes a good teacher, Freund had his answer ready. “First and most important is prayer. I don’t see myself as particularly talented as a teacher, but I rely on prayer and it all works out.

“You have to love what you do. You can’t fake it; the kids can see right through it. And loving what you do helps them love learning.

“The kids have to know you care about them; show it, do things as a class and make it fun and memorable. A positive attitude makes a school year go wonderfully well. And sometimes, faking a positive attitude turns into reality.

“Also be yourself!”

Freund’s motto is “It doesn’t matter.” Msgr. Brad Offutt once said that in a homily, and Freund thought it made sense. He explained, “The only thing that matters is we tried. That’s all God asks!”

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Thursday
May 25, 2017
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph