Last week, Jim Leonard announced his retirement from teaching at Lifetime Learning Center. Having taught with LLC for more than 10 years, there wasn’t a dry eye in class when he made his announcement. Project Coordinator, Christine Hill interviewed him and asked him to share a little bit about his classes on Short Stories– one of the highlights of our program. His students love talking about literature and the way he leads discussions and includes the thoughts and opinions of his students.
Jim described his years teaching high school in the Seattle area public and Catholic systems as well as at Seattle University. He cited his experience leading Matteo Ricci high school seminars, often in history subjects for advanced students. The seminars were self-led discussions rather than lectures which has been his approach to teaching ever since. As Shirley, one of his faithful students and also a former English teacher shared today, “once a teacher always a teacher”. Another student Ben Meyerhoff, summed up his experience with Jim, as “He changed my life.” Words and sentiment every teacher wants to hear.
Jim talked about how he structures his classes, two short stories for each class. He keeps his classes small to promote comfortable conversation which lets students get to know each other. He also describes how older students bring a lifetime of unique experience to their interpretation of each story. Students talking about what they see and feel, draw from their own life experience which enriches the story for everyone.
But Jim has not always been a teacher. He studied International Relations in college and worked over the years in numerous organizations devoted to peace and conflict resolution. He might even be called a peace activist! He worked for the National Committee for a Political Settlement in Vietnam, The Center for War/Peace Studies based in New York, and the Seattle Chapter of “World Without War.” This work took him to Russia and Vietnam among other places. Ask him some day about how he was mistaken for a native Russian which opened doors to otherwise unlikely exchanges with locals during the cold war era Soviet Union.
It comes as no surprise that Jim is a big reader. He enjoys reading novels, biographies and history. One of his favorite recent reads was a biography of the U.S. negotiator, Richard Holbrooke, who, like Jim, worked to resolve intractable international conflicts.
Lifetime Learning Center thanks Jim for sharing his deep knowledge of literature, his skillful teaching and gentle humor over all these years. For his part, Jim said that teaching senior students is especially rewarding because they want to be here and they have a breadth of wisdom to draw on. With his characteristic wry humor Jim says, “Although we don’t know everything, a lot of it sounds familiar.”
Thank you Jim, for all the years you have touched our lives!