2016-01-17 / Insight

‘One of the best decisions in my life’

Machesney heads foreign language department at LCS
810-452-2640 • asmith@mihomepaper.com

Duane Machesney, 47, is the head of the foreign language department at Lapeer Community Schools. He has been teaching for almost 30 years, getting his start at Lakeville. 
Photo by Adam Fitzgerald Smith Duane Machesney, 47, is the head of the foreign language department at Lapeer Community Schools. He has been teaching for almost 30 years, getting his start at Lakeville. Photo by Adam Fitzgerald Smith LAPEER — Duane Machesney has been teaching for almost 30 years. By the time he reaches that apex 26 of those years will be teaching Spanish in Lapeer.

“I began my career teaching in Lakeville and I was there for three years,” Machesney said. “Then I went to Petoskey High School. At the time Lapeer was in need of a Spanish teacher. I had a job but they insisted on interviewing me. It went well and they offered me the position.”

He continued, “Lapeer is home for me, I graduated here in 1986, so I had to decide if I wanted to come back home. I made the decision to come back, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.”

Now Machesney, 47, is the head of the foreign language department at Lapeer Community Schools.

Machesney has a number of accolades that would be superfluous to list but among his numerous achievements are awards like Distinguished Educator of the Year (i.e. Teacher of the Year) in 2009 and awards given by Lapeer High School, his peers and his students such as “Most Respected Teacher” and “Most Dedicated Teacher” several times over.

“I had great mentors. Dave Webster, Paul Fernandez and Jeannie Johnson built this program,” Machesney says of Spanish education in Lapeer. Johnson and Machesney worked together closely for years at Lapeer East, the two even taught a class together (switching every other day) for a year just so kids wouldn’t have to drop the class. “With great mentors, you can only become the best,” Machesney said.

“I love my job and every day is different,” he said. “When you think about how innovative Lapeer has become and the opportunities given to these young people… we are all extremely fortunate.”

Said Machesney, “When I retire I may go on and teach college, who knows. There’s a lot I can still do and there are a lot of things that I am seriously interested in exploring. Right now I am here for at least another four years and I am so grateful; right now I am getting more kids studying abroad than ever before.”

During spring break Machesney is taking 22 students along with he and three other chaperones to Costa Rica. “I enjoy giving back to the students as I do my peers,” he said. For 10 days local students get to romp through the jungles of Central America, visit one of Costa Rica’s many volcanoes and explore the nation’s capital, San Jose.

Hiking, swimming, kayaking, zip lining and white-water rafting are just a few of the group’s many plans for Costa Rica.

“We are very excited. This is the first time out of the country for a lot of these kids. They are learning so much through trips like this and for a lot of them it becomes a life changing experience. That’s why I travel so much, to show these kids that there is more to life than just Lapeer.”

Now Machesney is guiding the future of the Lapeer Schools Spanish Program. One of Machesney’s former Spanish students is now a Spanish teacher at LHS. In addition to the many things Machesney does, these days he is also mentoring some of the newer educators at LHS, including his former student and current colleague, Samantha Blaisdell.

Machesney is truly a man of many hats. He has a degree in Spanish and a degree in mathematics earned from the University of Michigan- Flint, a master’s degree in curriculum from Eastern Michigan University and another masters in the art of teaching from Marygrove College in Detroit. In addition to being the foreign language department chair, Machesney also presents at the OMNI Club Forum and worked as the director of the National Honors Society (NHS) program for 15 years. He is also a former class advisor (eight years), he helped coach track and cross-country (also for eight years) and he still finds the time to run marathons (more than 30) despite all his work. “I have a lot to give,” Machesney laughed.

Machesney is also spearheading a movement in the community to get younger people college credits before they even finish high school. He has taught Spanish 5 (AP Spanish) for years, which allows students to test for the opportunity of college credits, and now “dual enrollment is getting serious in Lapeer,” Machesney said about the growth of the program.

“My parents always said, ‘You’re going to get an education,’ and as a teenager you think ‘Yeah, whatever,’ but truly, you can always fall back on an education and I am so glad I have dedicated my life to learning. I have so many opportunities because of my education. Once you have an education, no one can take it away from you.”

Machesney loves his job but he also works constantly and he is realistic of the shortcomings of the job. But rather than let disillusionment slow him down he rises above any shortcomings and puts the education of others before himself.

“Being a teacher isn’t for everyone. A lot of people get into this field and they just crash within the first few years. It’s a lot of work for not very much money,” Machesney said. “For me it’s about giving back, what kids are going to remember most is if you cared or not and how you helped them.

“I feel like I still have a lot left to give,” Machesney said. “Now it feels like my time to give back to the younger educators just how my mentors helped me.

“I try to be a caring and giving individual. I’ve always wanted to give back to the community that raised me. At the end of the day you do what needs to be done,” Machesney said. “Every day I ask myself, ‘How can I walk through this door and be the best that I can be?’ because I want to be remembered as the teacher that cared and gave students a darn good education.”

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