MOLALLA EDUCATOR COUNTS ON THAT 'CONNECTION'
For Molalla High School’s Mackenzie Behrle, there’s a memory that is as sharp and satisfying now as the moment it occurred several years ago.
Behrle, who carries the title of FFA adviser at MHS (among her many school-related duties), said that if there’s a moment that stands out in her 21 years of teaching, it’s a moment that made her cry tears of joy when it materialized. Her student, Luis Mendoza, had just been voted Oregon FFA president, the first-ever Latino president in Oregon.
“It was sort of monumental as he was kind of an unknown in the state,” Behrle said. “It will stick in my mind forever.”
The beauty of that moment is that Behrle has spent her career building a trunk-full of memories with her students. And it is those memories, and those relationships built under her mentoring, that fill her with joy. The ability to build those relationships is just one of many reasons Behrle has been tabbed Pamplin Media Group’s 2021 Amazing Educator for the Molalla area.
“I would say my two favorite things about education are the lifelong connections I make with my students and being able to see something that I helped instill in them continue on into adulthood,” Behrle said. “I’ve been to weddings, baby showers, graduations for those students. I like seeing what they will do with their lives.”
It all began with visions of agriculture or political science dancing in Behrle’s head when she went to college. But as she looked at what her life might look like in those spheres, she got a notion that maybe there was something else in her future — teaching.
“I didn’t picture my life the way I wanted it to be,” she said. “Then I realized that I kind of always wanted to be an agriculture teacher. My ag teacher (at Hidden Valley High School) was my inspiration and was there when I needed someone, but I just never thought I could do his job. But then I just decided that’s what I wanted my life to look like. If I didn’t know something, I could figure it out.” And with that, off Behrle flew. Right out of college she began work at Willamina High School, where she stayed for seven years before making the move to Molalla.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a lot of opportunities open up,” she said.
Those opportunities include site council, leadership adviser, FFA adviser, and consistent contributor to school and community activities. Within those realms, success has been a delightfully constant companion. Share the Love, a student-led program that assists several families each year with financial assistance, is one of those areas of success.
“It was the student leadership under her guidance that turned Share the Love into the behemoth it has become over the last 12 years,” said fellow teacher Joe Zenisek, who started Share the Love years ago.
“We do the main bulk of the facilitation of Share the Love, but when we took it over it had already been successful,”
Behrle said. “I just wanted to streamline the process. Because of my background in FFA — and FFA being largely rooted in leadership — I took what I already had in my wheelhouse and taught my leadership kids those things.”
Within leadership she’s created a specific post for organizing Share the Love, a post that is a two-year position and requires its holder to train the next student in line for the job. Molalla’s FFA program is fortunate to have two advisers, while most in Oregon only have a single person. Behrle focuses on leadership items, coaches the debate team, works with sales, marketing and speech, and also serves with the officer team.
“I’m a competitive person, so within FFA, I’m able to have that outlet through them, which I enjoy,” Behrle said.
That competitiveness came in handy when the 2019-20 school year became a virtual realm. True to her core, Behrle found ways to make it work.
“I’ve had a lot of positives the last year and we were able to continue on with a lot of what we were doing,” she said. “I coached a state champion FFA team (National Ag Issues), and a third-place state team in Parliamentary Procedure, all by virtual communication. We were able to overcome a lot of struggles with that, so it was awesome to see.
“(The COVID-19 quarantine) made things harder, but I’m probably one of the few teachers you’ll talk to that isn’t hating virtual,” she said. “I’m kind of enjoying the different pace. I started teaching at 21 and this is the first time in my life that teaching looks different. I just take it as it comes and roll with the punches. I will say that when we first went into quarantine, I did get in a bad mood. I wondered why and I came to realized it was because I wasn’t laughing with my kids. I didn’t have that and until we could start meeting online and I got to interact with them, it all kind of clicked. I was getting no lift from interacting with my kids.”
While Zoom meetings and other virtual techniques have eased the strain somewhat, Behrle admits that some of the most meaningful times she’s experienced with students are those “in-between” times before school, after school or just in the hallway between classes. Those interactions, she said, might seem casual, but the chance to show interest in student’s lives, learn about them and offer off-hand comments, have always been her favorite moments.
“I think they are my favorite experiences because they are impactful for (students),” she said. When not teaching, Behrle said she is an avid reader (Stephen King a favorite), likes to hang out with her dogs, and pursues photography.