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Teaching Health With Vigor -- At Age 91


After 35 years in the classroom, health teacher Eleanor Bralver is thinking about retiring -- someday. But at age 91, she is in no rush. Bralver said her goal is to help her students' live the healthiest lives they possibly can. Included: Wisdom from teaching generations of students.

Sex education, drug abuse, and domestic violence typically are not daily topics for people in their 90s, but Eleanor Bralver is not your typical 91-year-old. A health education teacher at Sylmar High School in Sylmar, California, Bralver has no problem discussing these sensitive topics, and others, with her students.

A teacher for 35 years, Bralver taught her first class in 1935. She took off 22 years to raise her children, returned to the classroom, and still has no retirement date marked on her calendar.

Bralver's commitment has earned her a variety of honors, including numerous teacher of the year awards and an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Sylmar High School's students and faculty showed their appreciation in a big way last year with a massive 90th birthday party, which drew 600 people to the school. "They gave me presents, and a cake the size of Connecticut," Bralver told Education World. "The principal said, 'I guess you don't want to blow out 100 candles,' and I said, 'Watch me.'"

Bralver recently talked with Education World about her deep love of teaching, and why she would find it so hard to stop.

"My mantra is, 'Teach health like your life depends on it,'" says 91-year-old health teacher Eleanor Bralver.

Education World:Why have you continued to teach all this time?

Eleanor Bralver: Do you know what a commitment is? Do you know what a passion is? My mantra is, "Teach health like your life depends on it." I'm teaching about life. We talk about domestic violence, gangs, drug abuse, child abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, you name it, I'm in it. I'm on top of everything. I live on the computer.

You have to live this long and still want to teach. I want to continue teaching as long as I'm healthy. I'm glad I break the mold of an older person.

EW:Where do you get the energy?

Bralver:I don't know. It must be the love of teaching. I feel privileged to do it. Out of 35 years of teaching, I've had 22 years of perfect attendance.

EW:What are your goals as a teacher?

Bralver:To teach until I'm 100Really, to change students' lives, so they are healthy physically, emotionally, and sexually, and so they know they can wait until they are old enough to have sex. I'm very heavy into sex education; I'm just up front about everything. I want them to live healthy lives

EW:Do you ever have trouble relating to students?

Bralver:No, there has never been a question about that. I say don't judge me by my age, but by my ability to teach and be effective. I also get along well with the other teachers.

EW:How if at all, have your lessons changed over the years?

Bralver: My lessons haven't changed much; the kids have changed more. They don't realize the value of an education. We also have people who live in garages, and there is violence on the streets. And the drugs are still out there. This is a depressed area, with a lot of immigrants. Some say they want to go back home. I tell them they came here for a better life. This is their home now.

The peer pressure is enormous, on these kids; they are 14-to 16-years-old. I try to guide them; I'm a mother hen.

EW:How do you want to be remembered as a teacher?

Bralver: As someone who was effective and able to do the job. I literally have had hundreds of students tell me I have changed their lives.

EW: Is there a retirement date on the horizon?

Bralver: I looked at a retirement place in San Diego recently and it was very nice -- but I'm just not ready yet. I just got my driver's license renewed for five years -- I just wing it day by day.

This e-interview with Eleanor Bralver is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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