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Red River High School teacher Maureen Wacker helps kids understand, enjoy English

Maureen Wacker has taught English at Grand Forks Red River High School since 1994 and is also the school's adviser for National Honor Society. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald.

Maureen Wacker taught in Montana and Iowa before settling down at Red River High School in Grand Forks. She started in 1994, and has been very involved with the school and her students ever since.

Wacker is an English teacher and adviser for National Honor Society, or NHS. She usually works from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or later to ensure she has as much time as possible to help her students.

One way she helps them is by setting aside time for conferencing. “When they do any kind of writing project, I work with them,” said Wacker. “I have them come to me and they sit with me, and I go through their writing project and talk to them about their mistakes. And I find that if they then go home and make all the corrections, that they learn more about writing.”

As the NHS adviser, a service project with about 160 students, she manages “behind the scenes” work, which involves organizing and ensuring the monthly meetings are held. She originally started as adviser when the position opened up, and her students asked her to fill in.

‘Simple and understandable’

Wacker’s favorite part of teaching is the “kids, by far,” which shows greatly through their reactions to her.

Kirsten Aafedt, a senior at Red River, had a class with Wacker in her sophomore year, and remembers both the experience and Wacker very fondly. “She taught us so much. She has the ability to make students understand things that seem so complex, and she makes it seem so simple and so understandable.”

One of the books Aafedt remembers loving the most in her class was “The Count of Monte Cristo,” especially because of how Wacker taught it. “She made it so fun and, cause it was a mystery, the way she set the book up for us was really interesting.” Aafedt said Wacker allowed her students to “explore the characters” and see their development, and that “she always made sure we understood the historical context.”

Wacker is known for being “strict yet caring,” as Carson Dennis, a sophomore at Red River, said. Dennis has had two classes with Wacker, and he said he believes her strictness is one of the best things about her teaching style. “She expects a lot, but that means that you have to produce a lot of results, which helps you in the long run,” he said.

“If you don’t understand anything, she’s always willing to help you out. She’s there after school if you need her. She’s just willing to do anything to help you with whatever you’re having trouble with.”

‘Insightful and kind’

Wacker has also made a lasting impression on her colleagues. Tracey Heisler, an English teacher at Red River, has worked with Wacker since she came to the school in 1994, and views Wacker as a great mentor.

“She is so insightful and kind, and just has this wealth of knowledge that I look to on a daily basis. She just has a gift for teaching,” said Heisler. The two also frequently collaborate on their classes. “I can go to her with any of the problems I have or any of the concerns, or any of my ideas, and she’ll help me think through them and work through them. She’s a fantastic resource.”

Heisler also noted Wacker’s great sense of humor and her popularity with students. “You can tell when we have pep rallies and she’s introduced, and they do a tremendous applause and roar for Mrs. Wacker,” said Heisler. “The kids here love her because they know how much she cares about them.”

Books and inspiration

Of all the English subjects she teaches, Wacker said she likes writing the best. But she also loves the literature that sophomores read because of the variety. One of her favorite books to teach is “Great Expectations,” she said, because she loves the characters.

Wacker has also always loved reading in her free time, even as a child in Turtle Lake, N.D. “When I was growing up ... oh my, I read everything,” she said. Today, she loves to read Western novels by Louis L’Amour.

When Wacker thinks back on the teachers who have inspired her, two come to mind. The first is her high school social studies teacher Mr. Grooters. “He was marvelous because he made the historical figures into characters. He made them alive. He showed us their weaknesses and their strengths. And he made them into real persons,” she said.

The second teacher to inspire Wacker was her college biology professor Dr. Hoffman. “I just loved his human anatomy class because he too told us that if we really understood something we should be able to make it so simple that even a child could understand. And I’ve never forgotten that.”

Wacker double-majored in English and biology at Minot State University and also earned masters degrees in English and education at UND. She said that if she wasn’t teaching English, she would have gladly taught biology, too.

Wacker finds many aspects of her job gratifying, but she said seeing her influence on her past students is one of the best. “It’s rewarding when students come back and talk to me about their successes once they’re out in the business world or the college world,” Wacker said. And it’s not uncommon for her former students to tell her how prepared they felt for their college-level English courses, thanks to her. “They come back and say, ‘My English class was so easy.’ It makes me feel as if I’ve accomplished something.”

McGinniss is a senior at Red River High School. She can be reached at