Longest tenured teachers: A Q&A with the heart and soul of McNick

For some, McNick is just a temporary place where they go to work or to learn and then go home, but for others it’s a part of who they are, a place that they can call a second home. McNick has represented a permanent home full of memories, life-long relationships, and laughter along the way.

Theology teacher John Norman, science teacher Regina Goines, and SAIL and English teacher Val Combs are the people who can attest to McNick being a lifelong home. They have spent their teaching careers developing the minds and spirits of the young men and women at McNick. They have been through so many changes and challenges, adapting to new students, faculty, and technology. Some have even had to adapt to teaching in a new classroom, and of course, this past year, they have had to adapt to teaching online. Now, with the opportunity to reflect back on all the memories made here at McNick, these teachers share their experience.

Q: What has been the main reason you have stayed at McNick? What keeps you coming back each year?

Combs: “I love what I do and I love the people —- dedicated colleagues and amazing students. Every day is different and the young people at McNick are wonderful.”

Norman: “I love the students and my colleagues and I love the classes that I teach. MHS is a wonderful place to teach… a wonderful community.”

Goines: “I come back each year because the students are the best anywhere.”

Q: What’s the biggest difference between McNick when you started teaching and McNick now?

Combs: “Too many to name—but technology comes to my mind first. I also have a different position. I taught English for 28 years, and now I am an Intervention Specialist in our SAIL Program.”

Norman: “Back then we had reel-to-reel films, now we have You-Tube. Back then we had chalkboards, today we have white boards. Back then Paradise didn’t exist, now we have it. Back then there were no computers or tablets, now each student has their own.”

Goines: “The biggest difference is technology and all the changes related to it: student’s way of getting information about school and what is going on socially is totally different.  The way we communicate with parents has changed.  When I started, there was no email, grades were submitted on a bubble sheet (that we had to fill out for report cards), the only phones were on people’s desk or my kitchen wall…. hard to believe how much all of this has changed.”

Q: In what ways have you had to adapt since you began teaching?

Combs: “Countless ways! Schedule changes, curriculum changes, personnel changes, family changes, school changes, technology changes, strategy changes, world changes, etc. etc. etc. Teaching demands adaptability and flexibility.”

Norman: “The transition with each student having a computer was a giant change. Over the decades the teenage “world” has changed as they have different influences with social media, I-Phones and computers. We have to be sensitive to their changing world. COVID-19 has also been a huge change as well.

Goines: “Adapting has involved learning (not always very well) a long series of different software applications. A few years ago one of my (already retired) friends asked me when I would retire. My response was that I have not reached my quota of new software applications, but when I do, I will be retiring. With Covid and all the new things related to remote teaching, I think I have reached the quota now. Adapting has also involved changing how we teach in order to keep up with available tech and the way students use tech. Students are less patient now; they are used to having everything at their fingertips, so they are sometimes reluctant to spend time struggling to learn hard concepts.”

Q: What’s your favorite memory from your time at McNick?

Combs: “Again too many to name—often times my favorite memories happen during an ordinary day—e.g.—a student feels good about something he/she did, an insightful comment from a student or a “ah ha” moment, a conversation with a student or colleague, building relationships, a shared moment of grace.”

Norman: “Spending my days talking with students about the “spiritual-life journey”. Spending time with dear friends who teach and work at MHS.  There are so many colleagues that I have shared time with, I can’t mention them all.  But Mr. Jeff Hutchinson-Smyth and I have shared a common history at MHS for many years and service-learning retreats to Appalachia, Louisiana and Nicaragua were an important part of that history. He is deeply spiritual and committed to building a world based on the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching. All the trips to Nicaragua we made. The Kairos retreats. All the Appalachia retreats and I have shared these with: Anne Jones, Andy Ey, Teresa Davis, Jeff Hutchinson-Smyth, Cheryl Heise.”

Goines: “Oh my gosh, so many memories I cannot pick out one.  I really enjoy remembering what my former students were like when their kids end up in my class.  It is fun to see how the kids are similar and different from their parents…and it is fun to see how the former students have changed as they ‘grew up’ and became parents themselves.”

Q: What drew you to McNick in the first place?

Combs: “Right out of college, I interviewed and was offered several positions. I loved that McNick was co-ed and rooted in the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph.”

 Norman: “Many years ago the Sisters of St. Joseph wanted to increase the focus of MHS on: Service in the community, Justice and Peace. During Heritage Week many will recall that the Sisters were (are) committed to putting their “feet in the street” (in service to the poor) and building a world based on Justice and Peace. I wanted to be involved in this focus and so after some meetings, I was hired to join the MHS staff.”

Goines: “In the first place, I was hired by dumb luck.  I needed a job and they needed a science teacher.  I don’t think I knew then that 37 (ish) years later I would still be here!”

Q: Has there ever been a time of doubt that you thought you wouldn’t finish your teaching career here?

Combs: “Not really, though I never dreamed I’d stay in one place 37 years!”

Norman: “Yes, in my 13th year I hit a very low spot, feeling like I couldn’t go on.  I spoke with my colleague, Mr. Bill Stricker, (Mr. Pat Stricker’s dad) and he pulled out a classic spiritual book called, The Imitation of Christ.  He read a passage from there and it spoke to my heart.  The Lord gave me encouragement through those words.”

Goines: “No, I never considered leaving.  It has been a very fulfilling place to work.  My colleagues in the science department have always been very supportive and fun to work with and the students have always been willing to work hard and for the most part seem to enjoy learning.  Every day, some student makes me laugh….it is fun to be part of that.”

Q: Is there anything you would like to add?

Combs: “McNick is my second home. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the faith community at McNick and to do my best every day to motivate and encourage my students. I believe in our mission and hope that I have had a small part in bringing it to life.”

Norman: “MHS has been my second family, my second home.  I have received so much from the students and staff at MHS. We have been on a long and wonderful journey together over these many years.  I am grateful to the Sisters of St. Joseph for inviting me to be a part of this community. Also, I know that Regina Goines and Val Combs are part of this story and they are without a doubt “gems” in the MHS story.  They have dedicated their professional lives to the students and MHS community and we are so much better because of them.  I have been blessed to walk with them over these many years.”

Goines: “I moved to Cincinnati with my family just in time to start my senior year of high school.  I was not happy about it, but I came to McNick for that year.  I could not wait to get out of here.  After graduation, I said to myself that I would never step foot in this school again.  I have since learned that we need to be careful what we say…. sometimes God has very different plans for us.”


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