June 11, 2010

Teacher treasures memories and mementos from 43 years at one school

John Hornberger, an eighth-grade teacher at St. Michael School in Indianapolis, works with students in his classroom. He is retiring after 43 years. (Submitted photo)

John Hornberger, an eighth-grade teacher at St. Michael School in Indianapolis, works with students in his classroom. He is retiring after 43 years. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

After 43 years of teaching at the same Catholic school, John Hornberger recently looked around his classroom one more time on the last day of his remarkable teaching career.

Then the eighth-grade teacher at St. Michael School in Indianapolis made sure he had his three favorite “souvenirs” with him before he turned off the lights, closed the door of his classroom and headed toward his retirement.

The first souvenir is an ink well from Hornberger’s first classroom in 1967—a memento that must have bewildered the students in his recent classes.

“I remember my first day very well,” he said. “I had 39 students in one room, and they were all excited about the new teacher. Half the faculty back then were [religious] sisters.”

As he left the classroom, he also carried the first set of books he taught with, and an old-fashioned, metal mission bank in the form of a globe. Those souvenirs will all find a special place in his home, right there with the lists of all the students he has ever taught.

Oh, yes, that’s one more part of his 43 years of teaching that Hornberger carried with him on the last day of school on May 28—the memories of all the children he has taught.

“When they come back and talk about their memories, that’s a good feeling for them and me,” he said. “I’ve also enjoyed getting the chance to teach the children whose parents I had taught. There was one family where I taught the mother and father as children, and then I taught all five of their children. It was a wonderful place to teach.”

He will be remembered for the academic teams he coached, for the way he supported his students during their athletic games, and for the annual eighth-grade trip to Chicago that he organized.

“He started the trip back in 1987,” recalled Steven Padgett, the principal of St. Michael School, in a tribute to Hornberger. “It was a way for him to bring to life for his students many of their history lessons. But it goes deeper than that.”

According to Padgett, Hornberger was also teaching these lessons through the Chicago trip: Set goals, plan and work together to achieve what you want, take the time to travel and learn from others, and never forget the importance of relationships and friendships.

“He is the ultimate team player,” Padgett noted. “He cares about his fellow colleagues as much as he does his students. That dedication and devotion to St. Michael School and Parish will truly be missed.”

That feeling helps to explain why nearly 300 people came to a celebration of his career on May 16.

“It was wonderful,” said Hornberger, who is 64. “I was so surprised by all the former students who showed up, all the way back to my first year of teaching. They gave me wonderful cards and messages I’ll treasure forever. They thanked me for things that I didn’t remember.”

For “Mr. H.”, his 43 years as a teacher have always been a journey of hope.

“I always hoped my students would leave St. Michael School with a good feeling for the school and the Church,” he said. “I also hoped that they would pass along that good feeling to the next generation. We always have to prepare for the next generation to take our place.”

As a new teacher prepares to step into the eighth-grade classroom at St. Michael School in August, Hornberger is already looking forward to having extra time to travel. Still, he figures his adventures will lead him back to helping children in school.

“I’ll help with someone who needs tutoring, and I’ll help in the science lab,” he said. “I just enjoy helping the kids and being around them.” †

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