Godspeed Steve Andre. You are missed.
Steve Andre joined the Safford K8 family as a social studies student teacher in the late 80s. He then taught for several years at Maxwell Middle School before returning to Safford where he took over our seventh-grade technology classes. He died on Friday, January 8, 2017, after suffering a heart attack.
If you only knew Steve for an afternoon, you would still hear him repeat his two favorite sayings:
“I subscribe to the KISS philosophy: Keep It Simple Stupid.” And,
“Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
If you knew him for more than an afternoon you would see how faithfully he lived by those words.
In the nuts and bolts of the job, Steve took on more than his share. In addition to his teaching load (and covering countless classes for absent teachers), he maintained our web page, helped organize our Student of the Month program, served on our PBIS team, delivered our COREKAREs curriculum (as well as producing much of it), and helped lead our association with Ben’s Bells, an organization dedicated to promoting intentional kindness. In fact, we wouldn’t have our Be Kind murals without him. Moreover, he was an oasis of help for any colleague challenged by technology and would often send out tips and workarounds for problems associated with our cumbersome student information system.
Throughout, he made his work count by keeping it simple: focus on the task, collaborate, and get it done.
The list above of his workload suggests his dedication to his second aphorism: to see where Steve applied his gifts was to see how much he cared.
Students knew, too. Once, in the fallout from 9/11, an Islamic student asked him if she could speak to the class about how the acts of the terrorists did not reflect Islamic values. His own eyes would tear up when he described how her classmates’ eyes teared up as she told of the pain their comments caused.
Knowing how much he cared, Steve’s students cared how much he knew and, more important, how much they could learn from him. Any former student can talk about the slavery project, the small business simulation, the White House Scavenger Hunt, and more. I had to laugh at a conversation I overheard once. Two of my students were arguing about a Powerpoint project. One said to the other, “I know what how to insert a photo, I had MR. ANDRE!”
Plus, Steve was just plain fun to have as a teacher. He’d keep things lively with an endless stream of trivia and brain teasers. Even in disciplining his classes, he could keep it light. He had the means to pause all his students’ computers if they were off task. He’d press a button and BOOM! their monitors would freeze and display the message, “Smile, It’s Hammer Time.” He’d then correct their behavior and let them get back to work.
One last student story must be told. On the Monday after Steve died, which was the first day back from Winter Break, one class was reflecting on the news. Some students went to see counselors. Others talked quietly. One student, who, to put it kindly, moves to the beat of a different drum and is largely shunned by other students, came up to me. “Mr. Andre was the only teacher who understood. He’s one of the greatest men who ever lived.”
Steve celebrated many things in life – new technologies, the Arizona Wildcats, history, and music – to name just four. He loved to tell jokes, particularly if he got to use his Irish or Russian accents. And oh did the man make puns – I thought I would strangle him sometimes. If you saw him from a distance talking in a group, it wouldn’t be long before you’d see the smiles break out, probably at something he said.
He could laugh at himself, too. Once, to show their appreciation for some work Steve had done, some colleagues at a faculty meeting presented him with a basket of cookies and chocolate. What they didn’t know, but some of us did, was that he was on one of those no-carb diets that were all the craze back them. His face was a hysterical combination of gratitude for being recognized and good-natured irony for receiving as a prize the one thing he couldn’t enjoy.
Steve had his opinions, some of which ran counter to my own, but never, ever, not even one time in our near 30-year association did he use any tone in an argument but respect. The number of times I heard him disparage a colleague, in public or private, is equal to the number of times I’ve been to the moon.
I don’t really know much of his life outside of school. I remember how happy he was one August as school opened. “I got to spend my 50th birthday walking the beach at Waikiki.” Another time he told me that without his wife, Moira, he never would have made it through the challenges of his youth.
And if it only took an afternoon with Steve to be guaranteed to hear his two favorite sayings, you only had to spend about five minutes with him to hear of the new joy of his life: his beautiful grandchild, Hayden.
On the morning after his heart attack, but before I heard of my friend’s condition, I was in our backyard taking a deep dive into scripture. Looking west over the desert with the Tucson Mountains in the distance, I thought about how all that we see and know seems paper thin compared to mysteries of what lies beyond. How easy it should be to tear a hole in the fabric of the world and peek at the answers to our deepest questions. Philosophers, artists, scientists, and spiritual seekers make noble attempts to provide insight.
But the next morning, after leaning my friend had died, I took a bike ride and realized that sometimes the deepest mysteries are best resolved by reflecting on the life of a man like Steve Andre.
A life filled with love, joy, kindness, hard work, humor, humility, family, and friends.
And the greatest of these is Love.
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