Thank You, Melinda!

When someone who has dedicated their life to the pursuit of excellence in education decides to move on to the next challenge in life, it is fitting that they are duly recognized and appreciated for their life-changing work.  Teaching is a profession, like very few others, where you can literally change the world.  Over the course of a career, a teacher comes into contact with and influences thousands of lives.  When you consider the number of people who are then, in turn, influenced by those thousands; you begin to realize that a single teacher can create an incredible ripple effect which, over generations, can turn into a tsunami of epic proportions.  That effect is further magnified when the teacher in question influences other teachers who will then go on to reach thousands more.

I was lucky enough to be placed with two fantastic master teachers when I began student teaching at West Hills and one of them is officially retiring from the profession today. Melinda Oliver (Yaple) was a perfect match for me and had a profound influence on my early development as an educator.  I will be forever grateful that she allowed me the space to be myself in the classroom and allowed me the creative license to develop my own style.  One of the most important tasks of a master teacher is to provide the perfect mix of support and structure while avoiding the trap of merely cloning themselves or being overly prescriptive.  Too often, especially lately, that freedom is something that hasn’t been encouraged in our newest teachers.  You can absolutely never reach the pinnacle of any profession, especially teaching, without falling on your face a few times.  Encouraging experimentation while simultaneously providing an atmosphere where it’s safe to fail is essential.  I know I screwed up more than once as a student teacher (and I continue to screw up as an experienced teacher) but I always knew at the end of the day I could count on encouragement, positive feedback, and an overwhelming sense of “Hey, you’re safe here, you’re valued, and get back in there and kill them tomorrow.”   She made me feel like a superstar when I was her student teacher and I flourished in the creative and open environment she provided.

A few special memories:

  • Fantastic lessons in how to deal with angry parents.  She would say, “You have to give them emotional oxygen.  Most of the time they just want to say their piece and feel like they have been heard.  Let them breath.”
  • I remember getting called up to the front in one of her workshops to demonstrate how to insert a certain female contraceptive.  I kicked a leg up on the table and said, “First, you fold it like a taco…”
  • Melinda’s famous STD slides that have probably scared the crap out of more teenagers than we’ll ever know.  I love the moment where they move from being confused about what they are looking at as the slide comes up and then…bam, the look of horror and verbal groan as they realize they are staring at a (fill-in your favorite graphic word for male or female genitalia here)!
  • Melinda’s famous condom demonstration that forever shuts up the boys who say that condoms won’t fit them because they’re too big.
  • The birth video where Melinda would fast-forward and rewind to make the placenta go in and out over and over again.
  • Team teaching a summer school class at Valhalla where we took two full classes, threw them all into one giant room with beanbags, took them on morning power walks, and then taught and bantered for hours at a time.


 If I could distill what I’ve learned about teaching from Melinda into one sentence it would be, “Always remember that we don’t just teach content…we teach kids.”

Whether it is how she brought me in to this profession that I love, the support and kind words she has offered over the years, or the grace and strength with which she has dealt with everything from multiple family health challenges to cancer and chemotherapy; Melinda has been an inspiring force in my life.  How do you put a price on inspiration?  It’s simple…you can’t.  All I can really offer in return is to try be the best teacher I can be and to encourage other teachers to avoid the cookie cutter crowd of conformists.  While I’m at it, I can offer my students that same gift.  You don’t have to fit in to be successful in my room.  Someday, if you have a few spare hours, Melinda and I could tell you some stories you wouldn’t believe!

Bottom line: Thank you, Melinda…you did it right!

Dave Burgess

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

14 thoughts on “Thank You, Melinda!

  1. Mrs. Oliver,

    I was in your 5th period class in 2000 and graduated in 2001. Your class taught me so much and I always looked forward to going to it! Thank you for being such a connected, caring teacher to all of your students. I’ve been a professional nanny for the last 10 years partly because of some of the skills I learned in family life. I’m starting nursing school in the fall to make a even bigger difference! I’m so excited about my new journey and you had a part in shaping that vision along with a few of my WHHS teachers. THANK YOU!! (PS, the placenta portion of the birth video still haunts me.) hahaha


  2. Hi Ms. Yaple,
    I had you 6th period my freshman year for Geography and you made it fun. I’ll never forget our fake road trips or our projects on South America where we ate food and listened to music from every country on that contenent. I remember when I found out you had cancer, everyone was wearing pink and I went in to your class before break and saw what everyone wrote on your board and how you were in such high spirits and said you’d win the fight and come back. I’m glad that your winning, even though your not coming back. Thank you for being such an amazing teacher. I’ll never forget that class or you.


  3. Mrs. Yaples,
    I was in your freshman class period 1, 4 years ago. Your class taught me so much in a way I never thought a teacher would teach through. Thank you so much for enriching my life and being there for me. I miss you very much and wish you well on your journey through life!
    Angela Koon 🙂

  4. Hi ms. Yaple I was in your class freshman year in 2004 and I just wanted to say you.are one of the best teachers I have ever had. You taught me so much and never gave up on me. You made me believe that I could succeed. I am now a wife for 2 years and a mom of a 14 month old and i know that from your family life class….I learned so much from you. I am sorry for the kids who will never get to know how amazing of a teacher you are. Good luck with everything. Whhs will miss you.

    Danielle Martinez

  5. I was lucky enough to have been a student and then a colleague and friend. The banana-condom routine (which dates back at least until 1986) has been forever be burned into my memory – it is tough to try and melt into the back corner when your crazy teacher starts a fuss with that sort of thing.

    Myself and the rest of the social science department at West Hills were fortunate to work with and learn from a teacher who has positively impacted thousands of students. Your positive messages and “motherly” guidance made a difference in your student’s lives and ours.

    On personal level, your friendship and advice over the years has been much appreciated. Your presence and comments have always provided a sense of comfort.

    Happy retirement. Enjoy yourself.

    Dan McDowell

  6. Melinda! I still remember us marching around campus, annoying admin with your campaign against date violence. You are inspiring and amazing and everyone at West Hills was lucky to have had you as a teacher and colleague. I have to go to a writing conference this weekend, so I won’t be at the party, but I toast you in spirit.
    Laura Preble

  7. Melinda,

    The first time I ever set foot on the West Hills campus was to sub for you. When I was a sub, I carried a notebook with me to write down the great things I saw in each room so I may one day be able to incorporate that greatness into mine, many ideas from your classroom made it to mine . I am fortunate that I was able to work with you for the last few years and have always admired your positive outlook and resiliency with every situation you faced. I wish you a long, happy, and healthy retirement.


  8. Melinda! I appreciate how you have always been a dedicated teacher here at WHHS. I also thought it was great when you “donated” your daughter to our department for a summer. Your travails over the last couple of years have been both inspirational and thought provoking. Thank you for sharing your private life for the students who have had such an opportunity to learn from your’s and your husband’s battles. I must be with my kids this afternoon so you will have to tip one back without me.
    Take care,

  9. Congratulations, Melinda! Every time a longtime WH teacher puts the cap on the whiteboard marker for the last time, I cringe with bittersweet feelings. On the one hand, you deserve and have earned all the blessed days and activities retirement brings. On the other hand, WH will be left with a void, a spot you so uniquely and eloquently filled. I will miss your ever present smile, professionalism, and wit.
    To future endeavors!

  10. Oh Melinda, how I will miss the face that could brighten anyone’s day. You, my dear friend, are one of the most uplifting and positive people I have had the opportunity to share my life with . I will NEVER forget our early summer mornings at Valhalla when I was given the OPPORTUNITY to co-teach with you for Life Management. I not only learned an incredible amount, but the charisma, love, and funny ways you brought about teaching the ‘concepts’ to our students were beyond incredible. I thought to myself, how on earth am I supposed to teach with this woman? But….you always said to me, “Just be you…they will love you for being you…not someone else”, and to this day I always remember that. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared off my pants to follow you…cause truth be told, I was:) I absolutely loved and will never forget the AIDS party and how, at the conclusion, the looks on student’s faces when we told them they either had an STD or he/she was the one who was HIV positive. I will forever embrace the time we had together teaching and for the times that you literally took me under your wings (remember when I was told I was teaching your 7th period for a semester right when school was about to start?) and helped me plan and ease my nerves. The only thing I regret is not being able to spend enough time learning from you, but for what I have, I will bottle up and save forever. Thank you for always being there to give me a smile, shoulder to cry on, and for everything else you did and do unconditionally. It was so wonderful to see you and give you a hug. You look AMAZING by the way and love your hair. But as I said in the beginning, your smile is what I will always remember and it ignited my heart when I saw you yesterday. Love you so much, Melissa

  11. Thank you all for these beautiful comments. I am so incredibly touched… I am without words to thank you all. I believe that we are only great because we are surrounded by greatness. Everything I have done is because I was surrounded by so many fabulous people- staff and students alike. I love you all and thank you for everything you have given to me. I am a better person because of you. Much, Much Love……
    Melinda (Oliver) (Yaple)

  12. Hi, Melinda. After hearing all those heartfelt words at the get-together on Friday, I can’t help but wish I had the chance to get to know you better. I’m big on first impressions (probably somewhat of a character flaw for a teacher), and what seems like from day #1 for me, you always greeted me with a big smile and a “Hi, John” when we passed each other going to and from the admin building. This was before I was even sure what YOUR name was. Anyway, your warmth set the tone for the welcoming feeling I got (and always get) from my colleagues at WHHS. You’ll be greatly missed. I wish you and your family the very best.

  13. Hey, you probably don’t remember me, but I had you as a freeshman. You where and still are amazing. you Helped all us freeshman get the feel of high school life. You thought us the must unexpected leasons. whether it was about being able to put a condom on your head or that STDs look like cauliflower. your methods where odd, but great. You impacted all of the lives you have came in contact with, and you will do so for as long as you shall live. I wish and hope all the love and care and well being for you. Be strong, live Strong.
    Love, Jared

  14. Ms Yapes!

    I love you and you are a favorite teacher of mine 🙂 I was in your first period class in my freshman year, 08-09. Remeber me? Haha 🙂 I was the girl who you always paired up with Trevor Palmer asexamples I was the girlfriend with herpes or the girlfriend who got pregnant haha That was always soooooo funny haha 🙂 Also I loved those pancakes you made for us! We were your special class (; We loved you and your teaching sooo sooo much! I don’t think I can emphasize that enough 🙂 I remember watching all those lovely STD pictures you showed us and how you just wouldn’t change the slides quicker! Haha 🙂 AND when we learned about babies and you kept replaying the birth scene and when we thought it was bad enough the placenta came!! Haha and you paused it! Haha thank you for teaching me all I need to know about sex drugs drinking and anything else that went down in there (; haha ugh such good times! I will never ever forget you and that awesome class 🙂 I love you! Thank you so much for being the best of the best 🙂

    Love always, Your beloved former student,

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