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Teaching Must Be in the DNA

Jane Bracken and Jenna Held
Jane (Catlin) Bracken ’71 and Jenna (Bracken) Held ’05

Things have changed a lot since Jane (Catlin) Bracken ’71 began teaching first grade in Cannon Falls back in the early ‘70s. Handouts done on ditto machines (with that distinctive purple print), filmstrips, and simple newsletters have given way to iPads, Smart Boards, and classroom blogs. And though most of the tools have changed, the supreme satisfaction of teaching little kids how to read has remained constant for Bracken. For 41 years, she taught first grade (all in the Cannon Falls district), and in 2009, she was named Cannon Falls Teacher of the Year. She says it has been “so cool” to watch students grow up and have kids of their own, then meet with them as parents during conferences. One year not too long ago, one-third of her students were children of earlier students.

Bracken’s daughter, Jenna (Bracken) Held ’05, is now following in her mother’s footsteps, attracted to not only the joy that a teacher’s lifestyle can provide, but the opportunity to do something she loves—work with children. And last year, after having taught fourth and fifth grade for eight years, she copied her mother again and switched to first grade. Teaching at Lincoln Center in South St. Paul is especially sweet for her, as it allows her to work in the community where she lives, and to see her students around town.

JaneWhen Bracken first came to Augsburg in 1967, Christensen Center and Urness Tower had just opened, and 50% of the student body commuted, making it a bit difficult to make friends. But she spent lots of time in the Chin Wag (commuter hangout in the basement of Christensen), joined clubs and small groups, and took part in musical activities—and some of her best friends today are Auggie alumni. Her sister, Joyce (Catlin) Casey ’73, also went into teaching, retiring recently from St. Michael-Albertville Schools after 40 years of teaching. Bracken is grateful for her Augsburg professors, particularly Marie McNeff, for inspiring her to share her love of learning with students, and she is “deeply indebted” to Auggie Jeroy Carlson for sending her off to her interview in Cannon Falls, where he had taught prior to starting his Augsburg career. She says his recommendation was “life-changing” for her.

Held echoes her mother’s gratitude for Augsburg mentors, particularly in the education and math departments. She met her husband, Andrew Held ’05, at Augsburg and started to date him after doing homework together for Calculus 2. Now married for eight years, they have two children, with another expected in June. Though Held and her mother had very different experiences at Augsburg, they both have an abiding love for the College. They continue to be grateful for legacy scholarships and activities, and their families regularly enjoy Augsburg events together, particularly Advent Vespers and homecoming.

JennaWhen Held traveled to Namibia with Professor Gretchen Irvine in 2003 to study the educational system there, the experience was transformative for her. Observing one teacher who shamed a student in front of the class for his color (“heartbreaking,” she says), she later visited another class, where the teacher and class showed great hospitality and joy. The contrast was a vivid reminder of the impact that good, caring teachers can have on a child, a school, and a community.

Bracken has signed up at Lincoln Center as a personal sub for her daughter, and it is always a treat when she can see her daughter “in action.” Their advice to prospective teachers? Maintain balance between your job and your personal life, allow kids “to be kids,” and try to meet the different level of needs of all students (Bracken). Go into classrooms as much as you can, observe and ask questions, bring your own style, believe in yourself, and always put your students first. When you meet their needs to belong and to feel safe, you will see them make great strides academically (Held).

In her spare time, Bracken accompanies a variety of school and community musical groups on piano and plays organ for her church—opportunities that remind her how much she owes to the late professor Stephen Gabrielsen ’63 for organ lessons. Bracken and her husband Charles (Chuck) have been married for 41 years and have three adult children and four grandchildren. She says she loves the fact that, after visiting several colleges together, her daughter chose Augsburg. She can easily imagine her grandchildren being Auggies someday, too!

—By Cheryl Crockett ’89