Teacher Feature: Mr. Demmler – Renaissance Man

Daevan Mangalmurti

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For class, I interviewed Mr. Demmler, the teacher of ninth grade civics at Obama. The interview happened in his classroom, during the lunch period. His room is sparsely decorated, but the items on the wall show what he is truly passionate about, from his maps of the world to his prize tennis trophy. Mr. Demmler’s deep connection with Brazil, a country where he has been going for years, is a bit less evident. For this teacher feature, I asked him some questions about his time as a teacher and his travels to Brazil.

Daevan Mangalmurti: To start off with, how long have you taught 9th grade?

Mr. Demmler: I taught 9th grade 24 years ago, and I haven’t taught 9th grade since. It’s probably been about twelve or fifteen years, or so, since I’ve taught 9th grade.

D.M.: Why did you decide to teach?

M.D.: Why did I decide to teach! Well… I really, really like history and I guess, as an extension of being an exchange student, I understood the benefits of stepping out of the box or changing your perspective or getting a global perspective. I really felt that that is something I wanted to connect younger students to. I want my students to strive for traveling abroad, speaking other languages, and being a world traveler and feeling like a global citizen, not just a Pittsburgher.

D.M.: What aggravates you most about your classes when you teach?

M.D.: How easily distracted students are, to the point of… being deliberate.

D.M.: Okay. So, you’ve told us that you traveled to Brazil as an exchange student, right?

M.D.: Mm-hm.

D.M.: How long did you spend there as an exchange student?

M.D.: The first time I went I was there for a full year. I was a rotary exchange student.

D.M.: So you’ve continued to return?

M.D.: Yes.

D.M.: How do you afford that?

M.D.: [clears throat] It’s not very expensive, actually, to fly to Brazil. It’s only about $1,100 for the round trip ticket.

D.M.: And how long do you spend in Brazil every time you go?

M.D.: Typically, now, it’s about 16-17 days.

D.M.: Are there any particular ideas, items, or just things in Brazil that you love?

M.D.: I really love the food [laughs]. I love my host family. They make me feel like family, actually, even after all these years. I was 16 when I went, and I’m 51 now, so it’s been 35 years! That’s a long time.

D.M.: You told us that you studied in college in West Virginia. Do you see similarities, in terms of natural beauty, between Brazil and West Virginia?

M.D.: West Virginia is very rural. Brazil has very urban centres. Brazil also has a lot of rural areas, which I really enjoy going to. There are large plantations that have lots of flora and different things growing. I guess, West Virginia is somewhat like that as well.

D.M.: You also speak fluent Portuguese. Have you tried teaching it outside of class?

M.D.: I have, actually.

D.M.: For those students who have tried to learn it, have they gone on to speak fluently?

M.D.: There was an exchange student, a tennis player. I gave her opportunities to speak in Portuguese. She had sort of an interest in it and was having lessons with a professor at Pitt. When she found that I spoke Portuguese, we were always practicing. She now lives in Portugal, in Lisbon.

D.M.: So, are you proud of your students?

M.D.: Yeah! Here’s what’s interesting- you get to see them over time. So, you see growth over time. They graduate from high school, and sometimes you see them outside of school. If I’m walking my dog, I’ll see somebody that graduated ten years ago. They’ll give me an update and I’m usually very proud that they turn into really nice people. Some have been arrested, unfortunately. Had nothing to do with me [laughs].

D.M.: Finally, would you like to retire to Brazil?

M.D.: I would, but at the same time, I’m from a very large family, and while it’s good to be in Brazil, you don’t want to be too far away. Maybe I’d get my family to come visit me.

D.M.: Alright. Thank you very much!

M.D.: No problem.

In summation, Mr. Demmler is clearly enthusiastic for his students. He enjoys teaching, no matter the difficulties, and nearly always looks forward to what his students will become. He is also willing to work hard to open the world to his students and link them to similar experiences to those he had and continues to have, while enjoying his time in Brazil. I’d like to thank Mr. Demmler for allowing me to conduct this interview with him and I look forward to learning more from him in 2016.

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