Teacher Spotlight

In our Teacher Spotlight series, we will be highlighting our awesome educators here at Lincoln High School. Each week we will share a profile of a "Shipbuilder" who has shared their thoughts on teaching and life overall.
In the Kitchen with Chef
Michael Althen

After spending most of his adult life in the food industry, Michael Althen has found a new path and a home as a culinary arts teacher at Lincoln High School. The former award-winning restaurateur and caterer decided to end his career as a self-employed catering operator in the Wisconsin Dells/Baraboo area and return to his roots in Northeast Wisconsin.

Referred to by all in the LHS community as “chef”, Mr. Althen made this huge life-change because of health concerns, 120-hour work weeks, and wanting a bit more security as he nears retirement. “My kids didn’t want the business and I guess I was just tired.”

Knowing he wanted to work with kids, Chef Althen sent out 14 job applications statewide through the Wisconsin Education Career Access Network (WECAN). 

“Manitowoc (LHS) was the only interview I received and they were dumb enough to take a risk on an old, fat, Bohemian,” he says jokingly. “My mother is in poor health and it was time for me to come home and help my brothers with the family stuff.”

Chef Althen started working as  Family Consumer Services instructor at Lincoln in the fall of 2019. He attended Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton for culinary arts and earned a B.S degree in business from the University of Phoenix. 

Why work with kids? “I have been mentoring, hiring, and working with high school and college students all of my professional life, either in business or in jobs I have held,” he says. “I worked with four school districts in the Wisconsin Dells area for seven years prior to my starting at Lincoln. I thought that I could assist young people on their path to a better tomorrow, either through this profession or other professions that utilize hands-on skills.

“I also focus on character development in young people and try to demonstrate how to live an upright and respectable life.” 

His own upbringing, Chef Althen says, was “not so nice. I want to use my life to demonstrate that there can be a way out...just because you are dealt poor cards when you are young does not mean that is where you will end up or need to stay.”

When looking for inspiration, Chef Althen has three go-tos: his faith, memories of his grandfather, and the late actor John Wayne. “I know most of his movies by heart.”

Whether they are learning to flip an omelet, hold a chef’s knife, or fix dinner for the entire family, Chef Althen’s students walk away with valuable skills that they will use whether they work in the food industry or not. “I teach real life,” he says.

The pandemic has temporarily halted Chef Althen’s plans for his program, but eventually he plans to introduce more advanced classes. He plans a baking and pastry class and wants to implement a ProStart curriculum to get students certified should they want to pursue culinary arts as a career option. 

“At the very least, I want every student in my program to know that they can do this, that they can develop entry level skills, that they can travel the globe with this career, that there is zero reason to ever be unemployed, that everybody across the globe eats and that the sky's the limit!” 

When not at work, Chef Althen likes to walk in the woods, go fishing and canoeing, hunt for mushrooms, develop recipes, make sausage, smoke meat, garden, and many other things involved with his profession or the outdoors.


Candice Aulik Shares Love of Teaching and All Things Disney

Teaching in 2020 is not for the faint of heart. Just ask Candice Aulik, who teaches Geometry at Lincoln High School. To overcome some of the challenges, she looks for inspiration through her colleagues, calling them ingenious and devoted.

“I have been inspired by my colleagues during these trying times,” she says. “They have adapted to new ways of teaching on a dime and continue to do their best every single day. COVID-19 has absolutely changed the way I teach. I’ve learned many new techniques that I plan to continue using when we return to 100% face-to-face teaching.”

A graduate of Silver Lake College, Mrs. Aulik says she entered college not really knowing what she wanted to do. She eventually began tutoring students in the math lab. 

“This is where I discovered the joy of teaching and decided that teaching others about math would give me a satisfying career path.”

So satisfying, Mrs. Aulik says that she sees herself in the far-off future -- on the day of her retirement -- in Room 228 on the second floor of Lincoln High School, which has been decked out with lots of Disney memorabilia. She professes a love of everything Disney and declares the obsession has followed her to school.

“After 30-plus years of teaching, I will walk down the same steps that I walked down when I graduated from Lincoln High School and move on to new adventures traveling the world with my husband.”

In the meantime, she says she loves her students and enjoys talking to them about their lives outside of school. “It helps me to see who they are as a real person, because they are so much more than a student. A little good natured teasing and humor often find their way into my classes as well,” she says. “I try to show them that I believe in their ability to do math from the get-go and have high expectations of them.”

There are times when she admits she faces challenges as a teacher, most often trying to engage students who don’t believe in their abilities to learn and be successful in life. 

“I try to overcome this by getting students to recognize that everyone has a strength. Maybe they are good at facilitating a group discussion, maybe they rock at solving equations, maybe they are good at asking questions. When we build student confidence their engagement starts to increase.”

Her love for Lincoln High School is evident, saying the institution is built on tradition and family. “For over 100 years, Lincoln has been graduating Shipbuilders who have gone on to amazing things. Walking into the bowl in formal attire is the most unique graduation experience in the area that I myself participated in, in 2003. I love how staff and students alike are referred to as Shipbuilders.”

“Together we are one family, steering the ship and taking on new adventures, but always returning to the safety of the harbour.”

One of the things that has kept her going during the pandemic is the feeling of having a school family. “During COVID there have been challenging times professionally and personally and my Lincoln High School family supports me every step of the way.”

In her free time, Mrs. Aulik spends most of her time with her family, including her husband Scott and her children Lauren, 6, and Tyler, 2.

“We enjoy being active together and going on adventures, whether it’s the zoo, fairs, festivals, or a trip to the library.” Not surprisingly, she says her family’s favorite place is Walt Disney and looks forward to her next trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth.


Twenty Years of Loving Lincoln
Renate Blennert

When Renate Blennert was growing up, she dreamed of becoming an artist. She took art lessons at the Academy of Art in her native Latvia for many years. But when fate intervened and her family emigrated to the United States during her high school years, she decided to pursue what she considered the more “down-to-Earth” career of teaching.

“When I moved to the U.S. as a high school student, my English was limited and my social connections were nonexistent,” she recalls. “I grew to value the teachers who greeted me every day as if they were my best friends. I loved to say ‘Good Morning’ to my high school principal. The office secretaries looked out for me and helped me proofread college and scholarship applications. They were the adults who did not judge me for my lack of language skills or for my substandard clothing.”

Mrs. Blennert says she still desired a career where she could bring joy to people. 

“I always had a soft spot for the supportive teachers and I was eager to join their ranks.” 

A Social Studies teacher at Lincoln High School for the past twenty years, Mrs. Blennert is currently teaching LTC Sociology, World History, and AP Psychology. She has also taught World Human Geography, Social Issues, Civics, Psychology, and U.S. History.

A graduate of UW Oshkosh, Mrs. Blennert earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. She started her college career at UW Fox Valley, a path she chose because it was more affordable. 

“My college path is not a glamorous one as I was a student on a tight budget.”

There have been many great moments during her teaching career, she says, and a few stand out:

  • Two years ago, Mrs. Blennert took a group of students on a trip to Italy filled with amazing experiences.
  • For years, Mrs. Blennert took a group of students to Chicago for a field trip. For most of those years, the majority had never been outside of Wisconsin. “The whole experience for them was eye-opening.”
  • Her son recently worked with someone who had been her student years ago and was inspired to educate himself further in the social studies field when he was in her class.
  • One of her students met with her nearly every day last year to double check if he was doing ok in the class. She says he went from an F during the non-pandemic school year to an A during the virtual model. “He was a shy, quiet student who benefited from some regular reassurance.”
  • Last year she led a group of sixteen students in starting a new group called Coalition against Sexual Violence. This group attracted those who felt strongly about the topic and wanted to contribute to the positive solutions in society.

Speaking of her students, Mrs. Blennert says she builds relationships through being genuine, valuing all people, looking for solutions and not problems, and accepting that people are unique and quite different.

A self-described “free spirit”, Mrs. Blenner says she struggled with self-discipline as a young teacher. “It took me some years to develop effective strategies. Now I work diligently to help students set boundaries that help everyone feel safe and protected in a group situation.” 

Today, she says her challenge is more philosophical. “In the fast-changing world we live in now, I want to equip my students with the skills they need to succeed. I keep searching for what they are and I keep thinking about how to best infuse them in my courses.”

When not at school, Mrs. Blennert prioritizes biking with her family, drawing and painting, skiing, paddle boarding, taking care of her pets, cooking, and gardening.

In describing Lincoln High School, she says, “To appreciate the beauty, one has to be patient until they figure out the best way to navigate the system. Then they will see the beauty of the building, the staff, the programs, and the offerings -- as a whole we are much more than the sum of our parts. We are historic and beautiful -- we are Lincoln!”


The Power of Music


David Bowman sounds like a philosopher. Perhaps it’s his chosen field of study -- music -- that causes him to wax so lyrical. 

A music teacher for 28 years, Mr. Bowman graduated from UW Whitewater where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Music. He went on to earn a Master’s degree in School Business Management.

“Of all the subjects that triggered my mind, music is the one that asked me to be able to synthesize so many different areas that intrigued me,” he said. “The mind/body/spirit connection that is required to do it well surpassed anything else that I was interested in.”

Why teach? Mr. Bowman said he has had many mentors during his life who were teachers. Teachers who opened doors. He said he wants to carry on that tradition of giving back to society in order to maintain and expand what it means to be part of a human collective working to better society and people in general.

When it comes to working with students, Mr. Bowman says he builds relationships through honesty and challenges. “I expect students to put forth their utmost effort and hold them to it,” he said. “I teach students that feeling good is a result of hard work. I don’t sugar coat the things that they as individuals need to work on. I don’t give them praise where it is undeserved. I do encourage and build up the steps they have taken to make themselves more effective and capable musicians. I do acknowledge that sometimes our lives are not all what we would hope them to be. But I am constantly working to help us all see that we can be more than what our history/past/others dictate for us.”

Looking back on his years of teaching, a few moments stand out.

“Perhaps the time that students were crying in the classroom because we were singing in the face of unspeakable horror: 9/11. Perhaps one of the many times that students were laughing because they saw the humanity in someone else and were able to appreciate the circumstances. Perhaps when the audience was singing with us, not caring what they sounded like or whether they knew the words. Perhaps that moment when someone finally understood how to get their high voice and no one else was there to cheer them on,” he said. “These moments happen mostly out of well-planned luck. Even the sad situations happened powerfully because of the intentionality of the learning that happened previously.”

According to Mr. Bowman, getting to know his students on an individual level is important. “Since the beginning of my career, I have seen that knowing the individual is more important than trying to ‘get’ a generation,” he said. “If we see individuals then we are more able to connect and find the points of commonality that will allow for us to make the impact that one generation would have on the next.”

When not at work, Mr. Bowman said he spends a lot of time trying to learn new things. He works in his yard, grows organic vegetables and fruit. 

“I often sit and think, perhaps too little of our time is spent doing that.”

And of course, there is always the music.


Attitude Is Everything
Dana Bongle

No doubt about it -- LHS PE instructor Dana Bongle is passionate about what he does. If you need to find him before school starts every day, head straight to the weight room where you’ll find him working out.

“I love exercise and it is my passion. I preach what I teach,” he says.

Mr. Bongle received his undergraduate degree from UW La Crosse in 2000 and later earned his Master’s degree from UW Green Bay. He originally intended to become an engineer but found he enjoyed working with kids so much that he changed his major. “I got into PE because I enjoyed coaching and teaching the game of football.”

He says he teaches because, “it is who I am. I get frustrated but I embrace the challenges that our students present. I love the relationships built because of the time spent with them. The best rewards are hugs, apologies, and invites to their weddings when they get older.”

When facing challenges, Mr. Bongle says, “There are so many different ways you get challenged in a day. I love when people tell me I cannot do something. BAMMMMM. Challenge accepted! Those kids that don’t want to do school or are a thorn in your side are the ones that I want to reach. Those are the kids that inspire me to come to school and make those relationships. How do we make our community or world better? One kid at a time.”

Becoming a mentor to students is something that Mr. Bongle says he grew into. “I was not a relationship teacher when I started. I was very fixed with my mindset; I knew everything. I am now in a growth mindset and I feel I have more questions than answers. Working with kids has allowed me way more perspective than I could have ever dreamed of. There are many different cultures, opinions, and perspectives and I embrace them all.”

His opinion of the Lincoln High School community is positive. “As the building stands now, with the admin team we have now, this is the best I have ever seen it. We have people that encourage us to try new things and embrace the diversity of the staff. We have honest and open lines of communication,” he says. “I so much appreciate it and look forward to all my meetings and classes. It has not always been this way, so I am appreciative.”

If he was asked by an outsider to describe LHS, he puts it this way, “The best school in the universe that is only getting better. Why? Because the staff and students are not satisfied with the status quo. They want better so they set their goals high and get there.”

Looking into the future, Mr. Bongle says he will always be a teacher. “I will stay positive, solution-based, and creative. It is in my DNA.” 

When he’s not at school, Mr. Bongle spends his time at his small family farm where he raises chickens, steers, and cats.

“ We spend a lot of time outside in the summer and hunting and fishing in the fall and winter. I keep very busy fixing things on the farm and things my kids break. I enjoy learning how to do things for the challenge as well as the opportunity to learn."


When You're Good At Something, Teach It  

It was never Tanya Kakuk’s intention to become a teacher. Mrs. Kakuk, a math teacher at Lincoln High School, dreamed of becoming an astronautical engineer working for NASA while serving in the Air Force.

But sometimes dreams get derailed. “I was accepted into the United States Air Force Academy and -- clearly through fate -- I had an injury/condition that caused me to be discharged before being able to begin that career.”

Her mom helped her see the bright side. “When talking to my mom before coming home after my second trip to basic training, I realized that I could be a teacher and also wanted to be a teacher.”

Now in her twelfth year of teaching, Mrs. Kakuk has been in the Manitowoc Public School District from day one, first at McKinley Academy, then Wilson Junior High, and now at Lincoln, where she hopes to stay. A graduate of UW Green Bay with a B.S. in Mathematics and a minor in Education, Mrs. Kakuk says she teaches math because she truly loves it. “I have always liked math and was good at it in school, so it made sense to share that passion with other people.”

Mrs. Kakuk gains inspiration from many things but says her parents, coworkers, and students are huge sources of inspiration. “My parents have always given everything to my brother and me, as well as my husband and daughter.” she says. “My coworkers inspire me to be better and think outside the box. I have been blessed with some amazing coworkers at each school I have worked and I cannot imagine where I would be without them. 

“Students also inspire me which makes sense since I am a teacher! Some of them come from very difficult backgrounds and make their lives work. Some of them forge ahead with support but still make time for others and themselves. Others just do what they can. All students have a different journey and it’s inspiring to watch them grow, both mathematically and as human beings.”

Having been a student at Lincoln and now teaching at Lincoln, Mrs. Kakuk says she is 

amazed at how different things are now than when she was a student here in the early 2000s.

“It was so different when I was in high school. Cell phones were not huge when I was a student and they are HUGE now. Most people have the newest phones and the type matters,” she says. “I got a Nokia when I turned 16 in 2001 because I was driving but today kids have the newest iPhones. Clothes aren’t as important now as they were when I was in school except for shoes, for some reason. The brand isn’t a crazy thing like it was for me, where Abercrombie and Hollister were definitely the most ‘important’ clothes to own.”

Some things, though, never change. “Teenagers are interesting and they can teach you a lot of things you never needed to know about,” she says. “It always helps to know what terms they are using now and what things are cool so that you have something to talk about. It is also cool to share things about myself with them that they may not think I would know about, like video games, music, TV shows, books and so on. These things make it easier to connect with kids and also connect the learning with their lives.”

The past year has made teachers rethink how to approach teaching and learning, Mrs. Kakuk says. “COVID-19 was a shock to everyone. There are many things that I would love to use when this is over, especially a lot of the technology.” She notes that some things have improved for students using new technology. One example is the advantage of students receiving instant feedback when they are working through problems online.

“Normally they would work and then have to wait to ask questions in class, where time is limited. Instant feedback is something students need. We cannot do everything as teachers in a timely manner, so having something that helps the students is great.”

Post-pandemic, Mrs. Kakuk says there are other programs she would like to continue to use but she also believes there is something to be said for limiting screen time. She’s taking a “wait and see” approach.

Although she doesn’t have a lot of free time, Mrs. Kakuk says she loves to read, spend time with her family and friends, and workout. She enjoys traveling and hiking outdoors. She’s also certified to teach four different fitness classes and teaches at the Manitowoc Two Rivers YMCA.

As for Lincoln High School, Mrs. Kakuk says, “We care for each other in every way and I love the fact that I can speak with coworkers about situations I am going through or that they are going through and be supportive. Everyone rallies together to make sure that you are all right in every aspect of your life.”


Hot Rods and Mini-Choppers: All In A Day’s Work   Ryan Zimmerman

Ryan Zimmerman, a technology education teacher at Lincoln High School, says he has always been interested in the automotive industry, welding, and other hands-on projects. When he was a student at Lincoln back in the 1990s, he was inspired to become a teacher by one of his own tech ed teachers, Rich Kangus (currently a teacher at Wilson Jr. High).

“I was interested in the automotive industry and always enjoyed welding, fabrication, and woodworking work,” he says.

Those interests led him to earn his undergraduate degree in technology education from UW Stout in 2001. He also earned a Master’s Degree in Education from UW LaCrosse.

He enjoys working hand-in-hand on various projects with students and knows he is succeeding as a teacher when he sees the “Ah-Ha” moments when things go well.  He likes to joke around with students in a positive way. “It helps lighten the mood and breaks the ice with connecting and building relationships.”

One of the highlights of Mr. Zimmerman’s career to date was working with The Chamber of Manitowoc County’s Mini-Chopper program, which ran from 2008 -- 2017. The hands-on program helped improve the image of manufacturing and helped students, parents, educators, and the community understand career opportunities available through manufacturing.

In the program, students designed, fabricated, and built their own mini-choppers as well as managed the budget, schedule and overall project completion. The project spotlighted creating relationships with local businesses. 

Mr. Zimmerman worked with the program for its duration and notes his teams “built some award-winning machines that actually ran, drove, and could spin the tires!”

Another highlight was when he and his students built a hot-rodded small block Chevy engine in class and later ran it in the JFK fieldhouse for homecoming kick-off. “It made tons of noise and I pretty much knew that I was probably the only person  to ever do that in there and get away with it. Students loved it...later for orientation night we ran it in the LHS library.”

Yet another highlight was when one of his students, Chad Ansorge, earned first at a state Skills USA competition and later that year won first in the nation for construction.

With the constant advances in technology, Mr. Zimmerman says he never stops learning. “Being a tech ed teacher, you always have constant change happening around you with new, sophisticated equipment and vehicles. It’s sometimes mind-numbing.”

He credits veteran teachers he’s worked with to help him improve his own mentoring skills. “When mentoring student teachers, I try to tell them what worked for me and what didn’t.” As a Manitowoc native, Mr. Zimmerman is proud that he is giving back to the youth in the community where he grew up.

Looking back on his own high-school experience, Mr. Zimmerman says, “I tried hard, earned good grades, went out for track, but I was also a red-neck hellraiser and gear head. But I understood my work ethic.”

Mr. Zimmerman says that teaching during the time of COVID-19 poses a unique set of challenges to tech ed teachers. “I’m looking forward to getting back to the ‘normal’ routine of hands-on learning in the labs at school. It’s not the same for me or the students the way it is currently. It’s difficult to attempt to teach welding and auto-repair virtually...this to me is a hands-on type of learning.”

Nevertheless, during the pandemic he has learned new technologies, software, and programs, some of which he says he will adapt and use in the future.

When he retires, Mr. Zimmerman says he will “look back, knowing I had a hand in inspiring students and making lots of memories in the process.” He plans to continue to work in his home shop building hot rods, working on old cars, choppers, and antique tractors.”

For now, free time is spent with wife Sara and children Emma, Brianna, and Clara. He loves to travel up north to his family’s cabin, riding his motorcycle and “working on my old treasures -- junk to some.”

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