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'Priceless' LCHS teacher recalls moments

Beloved LCHS teacher Todd Kissel retires after 39-year career.

June 05, 2013|By Sara Cardine
  • Seventh grade math teacher Todd Kissel helps one of his students during class at La Caada High School in La Caada Flintridge on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. Kissel, of Arcadia, has taught with the same district for 39 years, 31 of which he taught 7th grade math.
Seventh grade math teacher Todd Kissel helps one of his… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

When La Cañada High School sophomore Kara Thompson got an assignment in history class to interview people about what defines humanity, one of the first people she sought out was Todd Kissel.

She'd never had a class with the seventh-grade math teacher, but was sure he'd have a good answer. In his 31 years at LCHS 7/8, Kissel, known affectionately by students as Mr. K, has garnered a reputation for being a homespun philosopher who genuinely cares about students.

"My question to you is: What defines humanity?" Thompson asked, having found him Monday during third period.

"Respect," Kissel answered, not missing a beat. "That's it. Because that's what ties everybody together."

Whatever our differences, he explained, we can all learn from our unique viewpoints, and so value one another through respect.

"Thank you," Thompson replied. "That's probably the best answer I've gotten so far."

After 39 years of teaching in La Cañada, this is Kissel's last. In September, he announced his retirement to the surprise of students, teachers and community members alike, who'd let themselves entertain the notion that Mr. K might just make good on his oft-repeated promise to "stay until 2040."

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Taking the advice of a retired friend, who said he'd get a feeling when he was ready to leave, Kissel, 66, began the year with no plans to retire. Then he had what he calls a "damned good year" and remembered retired UCLA Coach John Wooden's advice to leave at the top of your game. That's when the feeling struck.

"I thought, this is the best," he said.

A teacher who's worn many hats — from coaching football and varsity softball to teaching at Palm Crest and La Cañada elementary schools as well as the now-closed Foothill Intermediate School — Kissel considers his career an unforgettable journey.

"This is the greatest profession you could ever have," he said. "You don't get rewards like this anywhere else. I call them the MasterCard moments, they're totally 'priceless.'"

Early on in his career, after obtaining his degree  in 1973, Kissel moved from fourth to sixth grade, and then to second grade, with a short stint teaching kindergarten. When Palm Crest temporarily closed in 1982, due to declining enrollment, he told his supervisor he'd never teach at an intermediate school.

"Any words you say make sure they're sweet, because you might have to eat them," jokes the teacher, who's taught seventh-grade ever since.

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