Traci Franksen was 8, maybe 9, when she started walking around her house in tiny Waterloo, Wisconsin, with a book in one hand and a classroom globe in the other. Traci and math didn’t exactly get along, so jugging those two items with a protractor was out of the question—and not the safest exercise in the world.
“I liked pretending I was a teacher at home,” Franksen recalls. “My mom (Wanda) told me, ‘Find your passion.’ I was passionate about reading and learning in my youth. There wasn’t a bookstore in Waterloo, the home of the Trek Bicycle Company, and Mom didn’t want me to buy books sold at the grocery store. I loved The Boxcar Children books. I remember going to the library and noticing one of the books, a red one, was tattered.
“The librarian assured me that was a good sign, because so many kids had checked the book out and enjoyed it.”
Franksen—the Lake Forest School District 67 Teacher Mentor program coordinator and a Reading Specialist at Cherokee Elementary School—started her final chapter (and 36th year) as an educator last month. The 57-year-old Lake Forest resident, mother of three, and former Sheridan Elementary School teacher plans to retire after the 2021-2022 school year.
“I told parents of my students, before every school year, that it’s an honor and a privilege to teach their kids,” Franksen says.
One parent wanted to have a word with Franksen after a remotelearning class last year. Franksen had noticed the parent’s son was distraught at the start of the Zoom session and chose to delay her lesson plan, for about three minutes, in an attempt to comfort the student.
“The student was crying,” Franksen says. “As a teacher teaching from home, I saw the faces of all my students on my screen. The student explained what had made him upset. I then asked the rest of the students, ‘Have you ever experienced something like this and felt like this? If so, please share.’”
The boy’s day brightened.
“My daughter (Claire) was sitting nearby at the time, in our kitchen,” Franksen continues. “She’d heard the connections I was making with my students at the start of the session and later told me, ‘Mom, I saw you in a different light today.’ I honestly didn’t think I was doing anything out of the ordinary, but to hear my daughter react the way she did …nice, so nice.”
Teaching: It’s not all about nouns and eras and petri dishes.
The formerly distraught student’s mother connected with Franksen later that day and thanked her for turning the boy’s day around.
The most influential educator in Franksen’s life during her Waterloo High School days was Mr. Jones, a history/social studies/driver’s education teacher. He’d often ask his learners to pick a controversial topic and research two sides of the issue in order to gain different perspectives.
“I’ll give you an example,” Franksen says. “One of the topics chosen was, ‘Patty Hearst—brainwashed or not?’ Mr. Jones wasn’t just engaging in the classroom; he also wanted his students to take responsibility for their own learning.”
Mr. Jones, Franksen, and another student ran the school’s YOST (Young and Old Sticking Together) program in Franksen’s senior year.
“Once a week, during study hall, students would leave the school to spend time with the elderly in town,” says Franksen, who remains close with several members of her Class of 1982, which happened to total 82 students.
“Some would knock on their doors and then mow their lawns. Some would go grocery shopping with them. Other students would have lunch with them. The aim was to stay connected with those in our town, which had a population of 3,000-ish. “I guess you could say the theme of my life is making connections, as well as building relationships.”
As coordinator of Lake Forest School District 67’s Teacher Mentor program, Franksen, who majored in Elementary Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, trains mentors and sees to that new teachers’ transitions to the district are smooth ones.
She first got involved with the program seven years ago.
“I remember when I was a first-year teacher (at Sheridan School) and needed connections with other teachers,” says Franksen, who’s also a Learning Behavior Specialist and a National Board Certified Teacher (Exceptional Needs Specialist). “All of us are grateful for the many resources, like the Mentor Program, that Lake Forest School District 67 has for its faculty and staff. I’m doing what I can to make the program more accessible to teachers, because there’s nothing more important than helping them in their professional development.”
Traci met her future husband, Bob, on Groundhog Day in Chicago about 30 years ago, but the courtship lasted more than six weeks, and they got married outside his shadow. They have three daughters: Emily, 26; Claire, 24; and Katherine, 23.
“My husband is adventurous, like my grandparents and the characters in The Boxcar Children books are,” Franksen says. “Our family traveled to Italy and Greece and Croatia on one trip, when our youngest was old enough to get the most out of it. It was educational. They learned the importance of being respectful of all people.”
Franksen’s final day at Lake Forest School District 67 is next June 7. She and two of her teacher friends plan to go on a trip together on that date.
“Until then, the three of us will meet on the 7th of each month to discuss it,” Franksen says. “It’s still hard for me to believe that I’ll actually be retired at this time next year.
“I chose that date for the start of our trip for a reason: I don’t want June 7 to feel like an ending.”