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Jon and I: 30 Years of Chemistry

Jon and HankExperience is teaching with a master for 30 years.

My name is Henry Ryan. I taught Chemistry, and sometimes Physics, at Mounds View High School in a suburb north of St. Paul Minnesota (Shoreview) for over 30 years from the mid sixties into the late 90’s. I have been retired now a little over 15 years and still have dreams about teaching chemistry. Classroom presentations play in my head at night and I often rue the fact that I’m not in the classroom working with students and dreaming up new ways to present the impossible perfect lesson. On the other hand I never dream about correcting papers, attending meetings, holding parent teacher conferences, writing college recommendations, etc. The only other profession I think could have been as rewarding for me would be in the world lawyering. I was able to get the feel of that arena by being president of our 600 plus teacher association for six years, negotiating contracts, doing grievance work and running general fund levy campaigns. It was good, it was interesting, it was challenging, but I still choose teaching chemistry. I’m hoping that in the writing of this little book I might find an outlet for my desire to be a part of the community that I left 10+ years ago. Teaching chemistry is the best of the sciences because it’s so subtile. Almost aways It can only be seen in the “minds eye” and getting students to see it is a wondrous activity that made my intellectual life healthy and fun for those 30+ years.

A best friend and colleague for the lion share of my 30+ year of teaching chemistry was a kind, gentle, smart and very funny man named Jon E. Barber. If this writing should ever be read by anyone but me and some good should come of that reading half the credit belongs to Jon. Jon and I dreamed up new ideas, tried them out, reworked them, deemed them worthy or threw them out most every day for all those years. Not long before Jon retired we were in the faculty lunchroom talking about our demonstration to make the mass spectrograph more real to our students when Jon asked if I had started this thing? We had a good smile over the fact that neither of us could remember who had the initial thought that set in motion many years of perfecting the hair dryer mass spectrograph. We lost Jon in the summer of 2010 and with his passing many of us who knew him well and loved him have a hole in our hearts where Jon should be. Do you sign year books? Do you write things like “you were great in my class-good luck next year”? Well, Jon made a rubber stamp and with a red ink pad he stamped the year books next to his picture and signed his name. Fast, efficient, clever and you might think not very personable. However, students that never had Jon as a teacher would come to get his stamp. It read “I love only you”! Maybe you had to know Jon to truly understand the fun in this, but I know for many students that revisit their year books later in life Jon’s stamp will be a highlight and bring about a good smile every time. When I spoke at his funeral I ended my eulogy with “today Jon we love only you”. There was hardly a dry eye in the church, we had all been touched by Jon’s love of life, by his love of his friends and his students.

I’m not a writer (you probably know this already) and I can only write this as a teacher in the classroom presenting a lesson or as a colleague talking in the faculty lounge or with Jon. Those are my voices for this book. It’s the only way that is comfortable for me and I hope can be acceptable to any reader. I often switch from one voice to the other and even add in students responses to questions as part of getting the thoughts across. If this gets to be a big project and I find an editor I’m sure I will catch hell over this, but I will worry about that if and when the time comes.

We’d like to share our lectures with you.

Lecture: Chemical Equilibrium

Lecture: I Saw a Mammoth

Lecture: Randomness

Lecture: The Mole & The Great American Hardware Store

Lecture: Hair Dryer Spectrograph