In memory of Isabelle Seftas

Isabel SeftasRemember the Tigers.

 I graduated from Groveton High School in Fairfax County in 1977.  Through all of those years there are a few memories that stayed with me.   One memory was of a teacher I had for both Biology and AP Biology – Mrs. Isabelle Seftas.  Sadly, Mrs Seftas passed “ad astra” just a few weeks ago at the age of 87.  Happily, she led a long life and significantly impacted thousands of Virginians throughout her decades of teaching.  As we write on this blog of presidents, governors and their ilk I think it is appropriate to occasionally think of those “ordinary” Virginians who have had an extra-ordinary impact on the lives of many residents of the Old Dominion.  Mrs. Isabelle Seftas was one of those people.

And the best biology teacher was …  Ms Seftas was born in 1927 and studied at Spotsylvania High School, Mary Washington College and the University of Virginia.  A Virginian to the core Ms Seftas would start her career as a dietitian and move on to be a biology teacher par excellence.  During her tenure as a biology teacher at Groveton High School Ms. Seftas would lecture with the “fill in the blank” method of teaching.   “ATP is created in the cell by ….”. If she was looking your way you’d better say, “the mitochondria”. It’s been 38 years but I still get very confident when I see “Biology” on the top of a column of Jeopardy! questions (well, answers technically).  She was a dynamo and pretty much every student who she taught remembers not only her teaching technique but the material she taught as well.  Her passing brought forth an outpouring of both grief and fond memories from students; many of whom had not seen her in decades.  She made that much of an impression.

Teenage wasteland.  Ms. Seftas was about 4′ 11″ tall.  At least that’s how it seemed at the time.  However, she cast a moral and intellectual shadow more like that of Shaquille O’Neal.  On one memorable day I was playing a typically stupid game with one of my friends who sat across the table from me in biology class.  He’d put his hand in the gap between his table and mine and I’d try to slam the tables together trapping his hand.  He’d do the same and he’d try to crush my hand.  Pretty bright, eh?  As the biology lecture progressed we lost track of the game.  Unfortunately, I absent minded-ly let my hand slip between the tables and wham!  He got me.  I jumped up and went to hit him.  He jumped up and was ready to throw down.  He was the starting tackle on the football team, I was the starting guard.  Ms. Seftas took one look at this and said, “You two clowns sit down.”  That was that.  I would have fought the tackle and he would have fought me but neither of us would confront Mrs Seftas.

The old, gold Dominion.  Mrs. Seftas loved Virginia and Virginia sports, especially basketball. Even the most ardent jocks and sports addicts among us knew to shut up and listen when Mrs. Seftas started talking sports before class began. It was a sight I’ll never forget – a group of hulking 17 and 18 year old high school athletes standing around a very small woman and listening in stone silence as she ticked off the best college basketball players in the country at any moment in time.  Nobody ever argued with her opinions on sports.

Biology in heaven.  I was very sad to hear of Mrs. Seftas’ passing. She made an indelible impression on me during my time at Groveton High School. However, one thing is for sure – the residents of heaven are about to learn a whole lot about the Krebs Cycle and about the history of the turn around jumper.

 – Donald J. Rippert

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10 responses to “In memory of Isabelle Seftas”

  1. larryg Avatar

    A eulogy I could write for some of my long-remembered teachers including the Nuns that whacked me up side the head from time to time!

    and I went to the SAME high school as Ms. Seftas did – just a few years later but it was at that school that my own hero teachers taught.

    A publicly-funded education is what provided me with the teachers that affected my life and I am eternally grateful for the funding and the teachers it paid for to get me educated. One was Ms. Graube – an English Teacher who I revere as Don does Ms. Seftas.

    Folks like Ms. Seftas pass through our lives, enriching them and we pay scant notice on their passing and Don has noticed.

  2. Other than our parents, teachers are the people who have the greatest impact on our lives. There are two high school teachers and one college professor whom I remember in the same way as you remember Mrs. Seftas. They had thousands of students over their careers and I can’t imagine that they would have any but the haziest of memories of me, but they are an indelible part of my life.

    1. larryg Avatar

      and those teachers did not care if your parents were less than wonderful – their job was/is to reach you – get you connected to learning and help you succeed.

      and yet today , we spend so much time denigrating teachers and education and blaming their uneducated parents.

      All 3 of us and probably most who frequent this blog are so fortunate to have encountered another human being – who was willing to teach us, yes for money, but money is not what drove them to stay in education and work the long hours and put up with snot-nosed kids, their “it’s all about my kid” parents, the administrators – and the idiots (who call themselves “conservatives” – trying to destroy taxpayer-funded public education.. as a liberal conspiracy to indoctrinate the kids.

      oh my…

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Sweet post, Ripper (Groveton)

    I went to high school in Maryland just outside of DC. My AP chemistry class was taught by Ann Kelly who had a Phd. She divided us into two parts — the super brains and the less so. I was in the latter group but we ended up, through Dr.Kelly’s contacts, examining real human bodies in a Baltimore morgue who had died of drug overdoses. We spent a whole semester studying what happens to the body. Amazing.

    This was in the first part of 1970.

    1. larryg Avatar

      there’s a rural school I’m familiar with – it has almost no minorities in it but still has about half the school designated as free and reduced and at-risk, economically disadvantaged…

      and what I wanted to point out – is that beyond the food, there are kids who show up in winter without coats and hats and shoes falling apart – and the teachers in that school shell out of their own pockets to help stock a closet of clothing and shoes that some “special” kids get to visit

      at that age – these kids will grow up – almost all of them to never know how hard those teachers work to get them to pass their SOLs, working to 6 in the evening then coming back other nights for “parents night” and other activities designed to involve the parents in the school – and by extension the education of their kids.

      All of those teachers are well aware of the public dialogue these days about how “bad” teachers need to be identified and purged and every one of them goes through periods when they think the job is so overwhelming that it may not be worth it any longer. Every one of those teachers loves those kids – not their own – some having more love from their teachers than their own parents.

      they line up in the morning to get hugs – from the same teachers the public says are overpaid and under-performing and hugging kids whether they are well-behaved or hellions or have butt-holes for parents who blame the teacher for giving homework their kids don’t like.

      Can you imagine a human being standing there giving out hugs to a line of kids who then has to deal with folks who want her to be evaluated with SGPs later on?

      so yes, let’s all remember the teachers that touched us personally – when we talk about teaching and education as policy.

      oh – and if this sounds “liberal”. my apologies..

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I too was bounced around by a nun or two – generally with sufficient cause. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Josephine Hoffman, had a major impact on me and my life. She was a tough, but kind, teacher who brought about learning. She also encouraged my parents to ensure I went to college. While I would probably have attended college in any event, my mother had this goal on her radar screen, not only for me, but also for my three younger brothers.

  5. Thanks for that marvelous eulogy. The older one gets — trust me — the more prominent are those memories of fine teachers. I had a fine algebra teacher who, when he saw we were all getting fed up with it, turned to read entertaining essays from Thurber and others. But he inspired learning. It was, of course, a different era, with classes of 12 to 18 and a school of great teachers and lousy facilities. We all had to do maintenance work and cleaning each week.

    Now all my teachers are, so far as I know, gone.

  6. I had a similar experience at Brentsville Senior High School in Nokesville Virginia back in the late 70s; Mr. Perry and Mrs. McConnell for HS biology. Those folks basically launched me on my current scientific career! HS teachers of that era are definitely comparable to current associate professors. How times have changed!

  7. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Indeed, nice post. Had me thinking about Ralph Knight, Beth Brooks and a few others at Patrick Henry in Roanoke circa 1968-72. And then David Holmes at William and Mary. Wherever you are in life, thank a teacher. I’m married to a great one, in her 39th year on the front line in the classroom. She’s done far more good in one year in the classroom then I’ve done in 40 years in the newsroom or hanging around the General Assembly Building.

    1. larryg Avatar

      so everyone has their own “good teacher” story.

      so what has happened to us now days?

      we seem to be on a witch hunt for “bad teachers”…

      I don’t recall that kind of thing going on back when all of us
      had “good teachers”.

      and actually saying there are good teachers these days is considered “liberal” and pro union


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