Mike Shannon stopped the video numerous times of President Obama’s speech April 30 at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
Each time he did was a teachable moment, when he provided the context that his civics students needed to fully appreciate and understand Obama’s speech. His students engaged with him and asked questions and offered their own thoughts.
“My job is to interpret a little bit and give them the back story and context, because otherwise it doesn’t mean anything to them,” he said of what students saw and heard on the video.
That’s hard to do when students just sit passively in a classroom. But in the last four decades advances in technology revolutionized the way he teaches. And Facebook has allowed him to connect with students, past and present, in a way once never thought possible.
Shannon had his own personal commentary, too, about the video.
“We’ll miss his comedic ability,” he said of the President.
Shannon hasn’t always had the chance to give his students almost real-time exposure to the national political discourse in his 42 years teaching history, civics and economics at Foster High School.
Foster’s 101th commencement on June 10 was the last for Shannon. At the end, he directed the seniors, most of whom have sat in one of his classes over the years, to move their tassles to the left. They were now Foster alumni.
Shannon stood with Principal Pat Larson, whom he’s known for decades, and other school leaders and sang Foster’s Alma Mater.
Shannon is retiring after a career that has spanned several principals, the opening of the “new” Foster and the transformation of Foster into one of the most diverse high schools in the nation.
It was his voice heard at the celebration marking Foster’s 100th anniversary in April 2014, leading the crowd through the decades of the school’s history. He had lived much of that history or was influenced as a young teacher by the teachers who came before him.
“I was really honored when they asked me to read it,” Shannon said. “I guess I really am somebody here.”
That “somebody” coached Bulldog teams in three sports for most of those four decades.
He was an assistant basketball coach for 12 years under Gary Luft. For seven years, he was an assistant coach under Mike Huard (father of Brock, Damon and Luke), then took over the head coaching job in 1980 when Huard left for Puyallup.
He remembers the teams of the mid 1990s, particularly for their consistency. “We had some really good years,” he said.
He was head football coach through 2005, when, as he puts it, the school district decided it didn’t want him to coach football anymore.
“They wanted change,” said Shannon. “And they’ve had lots of change. They’ve had five coaches in 10 years or something like that.”
For about 25 years he was head track coach, ending his coaching career in 2009, and was an assistant basketball coach for Gary Luft for 12 years.
“That was my life, sports and school,” he said, just like when he was growing up in Federal Way.
Born in Yakima, Shannon moved with his family to Mercer Island when he was 7, then two years later moved again to Federal Way. He started playing sports in the third grade. He graduated from Federal Way High School in 1969, when Federal Way was a one-high-school town.
He was a three-sport athlete – football, basketball and baseball – all the way through high school.
Academically, he was a 2.6, 2.7 student but he excelled in certain classes. He asks, Guess which ones? English, literature, social studies and history. Math, not so much.
“Sometimes your brain works a certain way but some of it is just what you feel comfortable with, your experiences as you grow up,” he said.
He attended Oregon State University for five years on a football scholarship, playing defensive end and then defensive tackle his senior year for the Beavers. He was drafted by the Pittsburg Steelers his fourth year. He went through rookie camp but midway through regular camp, he hurt his shoulder, which “just wouldn’t heal well,” he said.
By then he was ready to give up playing football anyway.
“It wasn’t much fun anymore,” he said, adding “I learned a lot from it.” About midway through college, he had lost his emotional attachment to football.
“In football you have to build up an emotional level of intensity,” he said. “You build it up, build it up during the week and on Saturday, you just have to unleash that. I kind of got distracted and got tired of having to go through that cycle.”
He wasn’t quite sure what to study his freshman year. “People told me I shouldn’t be a teacher. There’s no job, no money, no respect. That kind of thing.” Studying political science to become a lawyer didn’t work, either.
He took an “interest test” his sophomore year. The results? He should either be a teacher or a preacher.
“I turned out to be a coach, which is basically both skills in one,” he said.
Deep down he knew this: “I wanted to help other people, like I had been helped in school,” he said. His parents split when he was 10.
“So the stability for me was in the school and certainly my coaches and my teachers,” he said. “I spent most of my life at school, since I was playing sports all year long.”
He chose teaching. And he thanks Ed Ziolkowski, a 1966 Foster grad, for making his first job possible. At Foster. One of those coaches who took care of him at Federal Way High School, basketball coach Gary Brines, told him about a job at Foster High School.
“Where’s Foster?” Shannon asked. Down by the new shopping mall; it’s called Southcenter.
Foster was looking to replace Ziolkowski, who was leaving after teaching social studies. Shannon got the job, starting in fall 1974, and was also the assistant coach for football and basketball.
Ziolkowski retired from Boeing in 2010.
“Leaving Foster was a good choice for me and for Mike,” Ziolkowski said. “I attest to the fact that Mike is a great guy, teacher, and friend of all Foster students, faculty, and administration.”
In his decades as a coach, led his athletes to league honors and beyond. He was the All State Football Coach East-West All Star game in 1999.
As a teacher, he was honored in 1988 with the Washington state Christa McCuliffe Excellence in Education Award 1988 and also in that year by Money Magazine for offering one of the top 10 economic educational programs in the United States.
Even in retirement Shannon plans to teach financial literacy to young people statewide.
Shannon and his wife Jackie live in Kent and have a son, Justin.
Shannon says he’s leaving Foster with peace of mind. The school has “turned the corner” under Principal Pat Larson after years of constant change in the administration.
And he’s one of the few teachers still at the school who has witnessed Foster’s transformation from a small-town high school to one of the most diverse high schools in the nation.
“What’s going on right now, it’s fantastic the way this school has taken in the different cultures, has made them a part of who we are,” he said. “And it made people feel like they have a home, because that’s really the beauty of what Foster was able to use from its past.”
Foster, he says, is a family.
CELEBRATE MIKE SHANNON
The Foster community will celebrate Mike Shannon’s four decades as a teacher and coach at Foster on Saturday, June 18, at Billy Baroos Restaurant at the Foster Golf Links on Interurban Avenue. The event begins at 3:01 (significant because teachers don’t start big events until after the contract day ends, according to Principal Pat Larson) and will last until 6 p.m. or so. There will be stories told, light refreshments and a no-host bar. Memories of Shannon throughout his career can be sent via email to Andrea Gamboa at firstname.lastname@example.org.