Two Allegheny Grads Both Make the Grade As Michigan Teacher of the Year Candidates

by Abby Collier ’03

The last thing Sherry Ransford ’70 and Anne Bowser ’84 wanted to do once they graduated from Allegheny was teach. Neither could predict at the time that a change of heart would lead them both to be nominated for the prestigious 2005-2006 Michigan Teacher of the Year award.

“I was too stubborn to see that I would love teaching,” Ransford admits, a sentiment echoed by Bowser. “I just didn’t see it as a career option,” Bowser says.

While they may have graduated in different classes and pledged their allegiance to rival sororities on campus (Ransford was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma; Bowser, of Kappa Alpha Theta), similarities between the two go far in explaining the success they share today.

Both Ransford and Bowser were English majors at Allegheny, and both had an interest in law. After attending the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan, Bowser, a Michigan native, had second thoughts about pursuing a law career. Before long, Bowser says she found her calling back in the classroom.

“I think if you can return to what you have loved, and what has provided joy and opportunity for personal growth, then that’s where you should work,” Bowser says. “I wasn’t really fulfilled in any professional capacity until I made that decision and went back to school.”

Bowser ended up teaching English courses at Kalamazoo Central in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she and Ransford coached the high school’s mock trial team to victory at both the state and national level. Bowser eventually returned to Kalamazoo’s Loy Norrix High School, her alma mater, where Ransford also taught before transferring to Kalamazoo Central.

“I fell into it by accident, and I loved it,” Ransford says of teaching. Nearly thirty years ago, when she worked with her daughter’s preschool class during the day and taught courses at Allegheny County Community College at night, she decided she wanted to better prepare the students she encountered at the college level.

Today, Ransford and Bowser are both English department chairs at their schools. Their work is a particular challenge, they say, because of the great diversity in the Kalamazoo Public School District, where students come from a wide range of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.

Perhaps the greatest similarity Ransford and Bowser share is their passion for learning and their unflinching dedication to their students. “I really love the moment when they catch on and I can watch them learn,” Ransford says. “That is the coolest thing. Those ‘aha’ moments that kids have.”

Ransford recalls a particularly rewarding time when she was working with several high school students who participated in a twelve-week reading pilot. They enrolled in the program reading at the level of Cat in the Hat and left with the ability to read books like The Scarlet Pimpernel.

“I think the students know that I truly value them and what they bring to class,” Ransford says. “I really have a passion for teaching, for literature, for writing. I love what I’m doing, and that ends up being contagious.”

It appears that Ransford and Bowser’s passion for learning is indeed contagious, a phenomenon they both attribute to their experience at Allegheny. “I think the way Sherry and I teach is very different than some of our colleagues teach, and that has everything to do with Allegheny,” Bowser says. “We look at learning with a different eye.”

The two teachers also boast a lineage of Allegheny graduates: both of Ransford’s parents, Trustee Emeritus Herbert Ransford Jr. ’38 and Cora Kraus Ransford ’40, graduated from Allegheny, as did Bowser’s father, William E. Bowser ’56. Ransford’s daughter-in-law, Sarah Lindsay Frink ’96, is also an Allegheny grad.

While it may be ironic, it certainly isn’t surprising that Ransford and Bowser were the only two teachers from the same district to be among the fourteen finalists for the Michigan Teacher of the Year award. After Bowser made the semi-finals, Ransford went on to be one of the final five candidates for the award.

Although neither teacher won, both say they would much rather stay in the classroom to continue what they do best, as the winner is required to work outside of his or her district for one year, representing teachers across the state, interacting with policymakers, and raising awareness on the importance of teachers.

They’re also not ones to rest on their laurels. Ransford is an adviser for the National Honors Society, leader of the Liberal Arts School, and a mentor coach for interns and new teachers. She still coaches the school’s mock trial team, ex-officia, while Bowser is heading a district initiative for a professional development protocol for teachers.

“We’re each other’s biggest fan,” Ransford says. “Anne works so hard and gives so much. She’s very inventive about what her kids do, and she’s behind her kids one hundred percent.”

Bowser is just as quick to praise Ransford. “She’s a phenomenal person. She lives and breathes teaching. She’s so dedicated and so highly regarded and respected by the administrators, by colleagues, by parents. She is a top-notch teacher. I would like to be like her someday.”

This article was featured in the Winter 2002 Issue of Allegheny College Magazine.