How Open School Made Me the Teacher I am Today

How Open School Made Me the Teacher I Am Today

By Julie Silvers


As I sit at my desk working on my lesson for 4th period Language Arts Social Studies (LASS) class with my 5th/6th grade class, my thoughts keep drifting back to the question: “How did Open School change my life?” To write about how it didn’t would be a much shorter piece. It honestly changed my entire life. It changed me. It brought out the parts in me that I always knew were inside of me but never felt able to let be known.

Those that know me now will never believe this but I was reserved at school. I was more of an observer. I always had so many thoughts, feelings, and ideas about so many things that were going on with me, around me, and around the world. This was the mid-1980’s and I was 15. I never talked to my parents about things because when I did it never went well. I had a spark about what it could be like to have a teacher challenge you one time before I had started Open School. I was in 8th grade at a middle school in Roseville and we were reading George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” My teacher was so excited because I understood the meaning behind the book and could hold a conversation with him on the content.

That had been an interesting experience but I wrote it off. The next year I transferred to two different school districts for my freshman year. Mounds View High School for the first semester, Harding High School in East St. Paul for the second semester. It was at Harding that I knew that I had to find something else, somewhere. So many teachers were so disinterested in the students, curriculum, life, looking back I don’t know. It was the summer before my sophomore year my friend, the late Bob “Buddy” Tomlin, told me about St. Paul Open School and that I should go there. I thought it sounded cool so applied and my path changed forever.


Julie Silvers, Sept 1988, junior year, Open School

I remember my first day at Open School, September 8, 1987. I  remember going through the front doors and walking up those couple steps in the old Linwood building and feeling as if my chest opened up and I was finally free to be me. It is so hard to explain to someone that never went to Open. It can feel like a portal to its only place in the cosmos where everyone that belongs there somehow finds their way when they need it. Once you find it, all those that had arrived before you seem like they have just been waiting for you to arrive the entire time. It is like everyone has known each other forever. Students, teachers, staff, there was just a bond that lasts a lifetime. Every day I went to school I felt safe, understood, loved, supported, but still challenged. It was everything that I had been longing for.

Flash forward 30 years and now I am a teacher, and with all of my training and degrees, I learned the most about what it means to be a teacher from all of my teachers at Open like Julie, Vaughn, Greg, Ev, Jean, Betty, Wendell, to name a few. Then I learned how to listen and not just hear a student be there for them when they need you and help them through all the tough stuff teenagers have to go through from Lenni and Linda (Buzzy). I taught at many different types of schools and have always been “that teacher.” The kids loved me, other teachers either thought things I was doing were cool but they would never do them or that I was off my rocker. The administration was rarely a fan.

Everything I do as a teacher is for my students, hands down. I want each student that I work with for any length of time to know that I cared about them, that I value them, and that they are capable of wonderfully, amazing things and I won’t ever stop believing in them, even after they have moved on to another journey.

Julie Silvers with Aurora Schaffer and Liv Thoen (top row)

Julie with Nola Henderson and Frankie Moon (bottom row)

(permission granted from parent of each student)

It took me a very long time to finally find a school (Laura Jeffrey Academy)  to teach at that has the same kind of heart and soul that Open School had for me. I feel so lucky to be working with an amazing group of educators that look at education the same way that I do and am honored to come to work every day and be with these amazing humans that challenge me and inspire me. They accept and appreciate all my quirks and silliness because they know I have a point or a lesson in there somewhere. I hope that every student I teach not just takes a little piece of me with them, but a little piece of Open School, too.