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Back to school in Auburn: New Scobee teacher brings a lot of laughter to his work
Cynics, be aware: in the time it takes to share a few words with Glenn Jenkins over a cup of coffee, you might just come away with a dangerous new faith in the human spirit.
At the very least, a gloomster would leave unnerved at Jenkins relentless, unassailable, fully grown optimism and faith in the basic goodness of all people.
Jenkins, 46, a first-year teacher at Auburn's Dick Scobee Elementary School, is one of those too-rare breeds in a too-often pessimistic world — the genuinely happy, unshakably happy, infectiously happy, man.
Humor and happiness, he said, is a legacy from his late mother, Martha Jenkins, his father, Sheldon Jenkins, 82, and his large, close-knit, upbeat, and laughter-loving family of six brothers and one sister in his native Detroit.
"We have a saying in my family: 'joking is serious business,' " said Jenkins. "My mother was funny. My dad's hilarious, my wife laughs constantly when she talks with him. My grandmother was a comedian. When I talk to my older brother, we don't talk, we laugh, hysterically. Humor is very important.
"So yes, I'm a very happy person. I'm happy with who I am. I want to teach my kids to be the same," Jenkins said.
High spirits are facts of life in a Jenkins' classroom. Not that his students should expect to spend the whole day rolling on the floor with belly laughs and yuk yuks.
"Yes, I am a humorous teacher," Jenkins said, "but there's a lot of work to do in my classroom. They are probably not used to having homework in every subject," Jenkins said. "When I grew up, we had homework in every subject. They're going to have the same."
Jenkins said his teaching philosophy calls for him to make the connection from the subject being taught to the world students actually live in, yes, that one, with its Lady Gagas and celebrity culture.
That Jenkins is here to teach is something of a testament to his faith in things.
He was a freelance writer for the Michigan Citizen in 1996 submitting articles about the arts when it hit him that he'd been in Detroit too long.
"One day when I was sitting in my office, which was in my house, I told myself, 'I need to move,' So I closed my eyes, grabbed the atlas, flipped the page, pointed, and landed on Tacoma. Three months later, I moved. I couldn't regret it. I met my wife, Francine, here and have had three children since then. This was the place for me to be."
He spent 20 years as a telecom engineer, moving back briefly to Detroit, Philadelphia and finally back to Tacoma.
Before deciding on teaching, he was employed at Clearwire.
It was the birth of his first child that started him thinking about the state of education in the world. He decided that he had to something to make himself a role model for his son and encourage him to pursue his own education.
"It also started to come to mind there were too few black male teachers, less than 1 percent in the United States," Jenkins said.
On the same day he was looked over for promotion for the second time, Jenkins enrolled in the education program at Heritage University in Toppenish.
Reaction from his friends and loved ones to the news surprised him. Looking back, it probably shouldn't have.
"Oddly enough, when I told everybody I was going into teaching, they said, 'Well, it's about time. You teach everybody all the time. You're always teaching somebody something,'" Jenkins recalled.
After two years at the top of his class, Jenkins graduated with a degree in education and was awarded a Ph.D fellowship.
"Hopefully, by the time my son is 10 or 11, I'll have my Ph.D. But I never want to go into administration. I want to teach. Teaching comes naturally to me. That's pretty much what my teachers said, 'You're a natural teacher, you are who you are. No matter who you are talking to, you don't change.'"
Elementary school, Jenkins said, is exactly the place for him.
"That's what's most important. If you don't get them early, you lose them by high school and middle school. The elementary school teacher is the foundation of education. If you don't have a strong foundation, your building will collapse. I couldn't be anywhere else but elementary," Jenkins said.
Jenkins and his wife live in Kent with their three children, Jabulani, Jalani and Jameela.