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It's No Mystery Why She's Teacher of the Year

November 02, 1986|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | Times Staff Writer

Forget the Thin Man and Travis McGee.

Temple City High School has its own fictional private eye. She is Anne (Dusty) Rose, an attractive, silver-haired sleuth who bears an uncanny resemblance to English teacher Shirley A. Rosenkranz.

Dusty Rose is the glamorous protagonist of two books of suspense fiction written and published by Rosenkranz and her students.

As Rosenkranz, who this week was named 1987 California teacher of the year, explained recently, Dusty Rose was born in 1983 during a classroom brainstorming session.

Organizing Theme

One of Rosenkranz's honors classes wanted to put together a book of their own short stories. But before they could begin to write, their teacher recalled, "we realized we'd have to have an organizing theme. It couldn't just be about what the kids had learned in the wide world."

The solution was Dusty Rose, the fictional teacher-detective who appears in some fashion in each of the 30 stories in "Kindred Spirits," the book Rosenkranz and her students, calling themselves A Class Act, published in 1985.

Supplied with autobiographical material about their real-life teacher, each student wrote a short mystery whose cast of characters includes an unflappable investigator with a passion for books, antiques and stray cats.

A subsequent class wrote 28 short plays about the female sleuth, which were collected and published in September as "Kindred Spirits: The Sequel."

"My middle name is Anne, the same as Anne Rose--no similarities, of course," explained Rosenkranz, with a laugh.

Rose is Rosenkranz's acknowledged alter ego--a glamorized version of the veteran teacher with a penchant for the shade of pink called dusty rose.

Like Rosenkranz, Dusty has a "Save the Whales" T-shirt and keeps a bagful of great books close at hand for emergency reading. And both women are single, have green thumbs and drive venerable yellow Cadillac Sevilles.

"She travels at the drop of a hat," Rosenkranz said of Rose. "She hasn't been anyplace I haven't been but she goes more often. And she has more money for some reason."

Like James Bond and other fictional peers, Dusty is larger than life and freer from such mundane constraints as the obligation to grade papers and to live within a teacher's means.

As Rosenkranz wrote in the second volume of Dusty's adventures, "If Dusty traveled as much as these books portray, all her plants would be dead, her cats would have moved away and the school district would have suggested that possibly Dusty should consider becoming a substitute."

The stories and plays her Temple City students wrote are not all "wonderful classic literature," Rosenkranz said. But they're something almost as good from a teacher's point of view: competent attempts at constructing a new reality out of words.

Life-Changing

For a few students, the project was life-changing. Josie Rachford, an 18-year-old Temple City alumna, said she decided to become a writer as a result of seeing her story, "The Antique Murder," in print.

"It proved that I could do it," said Rachford, now a freshman at Pasadena City College.

Rachford said she is "entering all the writing contests I can get my hands on." She is also taking a correspondence course in short-story writing.

Rachford said she wants to get a teaching credential, another ambition that she traces to Rosenkranz.

"I find joy in watching people's faces light up when I tell them something they didn't know before," Rachford said.

Rachford's experience was not unlike Rosenkranz's own.

Teacher's Influence

In an autobiographical sketch submitted as part of her teacher-of-the-year nomination, Rosenkranz attributed her desire to teach to the influence of her fifth-grade teacher.

Rosenkranz recalled that the teacher comforted her after she burst into tears while the teacher was reading a poignant passage from "Toby Tyler, or 10 Weeks in the Circus" aloud to the class.

"The teacher came to my desk and put her arm around my shoulders to comfort me," Rosenkranz wrote.

"She said, 'Honey, sometimes life is very sad and we do lose things we love.' I was hooked! It was probably at that moment that my future as an English teacher was determined. . . . That teacher's implication that literature was a mirror of life itself helped to instill in me a love of reading and creative writing."

Nominee for National Honors

As state teacher of the year, Rosenkranz, a 19-year veteran of the Temple City Unified School District, will represent California's 180,000 teachers during the coming year. She is also California's nominee for national teacher of the year, to be announced by President Reagan in March.

"It's a beautiful validation of all the things I've tried to do as a teacher," the 45-year-old educator said of the honor, which recognized her as "one of California's best," according to state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig.

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