When Jodee Cahalan began teaching AP European History at West Valley High School in 1997, she wanted a way to acknowledge her graduating seniors.
“I bought them mugs that matched their personalities,” she recalled.
And because she wanted her former students to keep in touch, she told them to “Get your mug (face) back here!”
The following year they decided to offer AP European History to only sophomores, but the mug tradition continued.
“I’ve handed out somewhere around a thousand mugs,” said Cahalan.
For her first group of students, she shopped for the mugs at local retail stores.
“But soon I had so many students that I went to thrift stores, and that’s where the best mugs come from,” she said. “I shop all the time. I have a huge mug collection.”
The cups come in all shapes, sizes and colors, but the magic comes in matching mugs to students..
As she gets to know her students, she writes their names on slips of paper and pops the paper into likely mugs. Often, she’ll change her mind. Much like the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter books, the mugs tend to choose the students.
When Cahalan heard The Spokesman-Review wanted to run a story about her longstanding tradition, she put up a note on Facebook.
“The best part of all of this has been hearing from so many former students,” she said.
On Friday, a small group of those students gathered in Cahalan’s backyard to reminisce – and they brought their mugs with them.
Charlene Fairchild (nee Krum) took AP European History in 1999. She still has her black-and-white striped cup and matching saucer.
“If I remember right, the black-and-white was because I was always so black-and-white,” Fairchild said, laughing.
She also remembers tidbits from Cahalan’s class.
“Brahe (a Danish astronomer) died at a dinner party because he wouldn’t get up to go to the bathroom, so his bladder burst,” Fairchild recalled. “I can also still draw a lot of the maps.”
Several students mentioned the anecdotes and stories Cahalan tells to liven up the study of faraway places and people long dead.
“I loved this class so much,” said Ellie Parvianinen, who just completed it. “She made it fun with all her stories. She’s one of my all-time favorite teachers.”
The school closures due to COVID-19 meant Parvianinen and her 45 AP Euro classmates had a different mug experience than their predecessors.
Usually, Cahalan presents the mugs in front of the class at the end of the year. Students can often tell which mug is going to whom before she says a word.
Cahalan knew school closures would be coming when Seattle school shut down, so she put together packets for the rest of the year and was able to send them home with students.
“I got permission for the students to turn in their packets in person on three different Wednesdays, and I gave them their mugs then,” she said.
She also printed descriptions of the students and their mugs, so the kids could read about why their mugs were chosen.
Parvianinen cradled her pink bunny mug with ears that serve as handles.
“I love the ears,” she said. “And I love animals. I want to be a marine biologist.”
Kennedie Krieger and her friend Lauren Carson brought the mugs they received two years ago when they completed Cahalan’s class.
Krieger’s cup is decorated with chubby cherubs.
“She (Cahalan) said I was the angel of the class,” Krieger said, smiling. “I was a little surprised.”
Carson’s mug is extra large and features the saying, “Live well, laugh often, love much.”
“I’m a carefree person and I laugh a lot,” she said. “I also drink a lot of coffee.”
Grant Gallaher brought two mugs – his and his sister Gail’s.
He held up her Wonder Woman mug.
“She lives in LA now, but the mug is part of the family collection,” he said.
His sister is a 2013 West Valley grad, and he graduated in 2015.
Gallaher’s cup sports a kissing cartoon couple.
“I ended up dating someone who was in our AP Euro class,” he explained. “I think she got one with some kind of sappy, romantic poem. I think I was probably a little embarrassed.”
His former teacher interjected.
“Their relationship didn’t last, but I do have an amazing couple who started dating in my class,” she said. “When they got married I sent them new mugs.”
Gallaher, like several of Cahalan’s students, caught the European travel bug.
“I’ll be teaching English in Spain this fall,” he said.
For many years Cahalan took student groups to Europe.
“I led at least a dozen trips,” she said. “But now I travel on my own.”
Instead of visiting the same historic sites she’s been to so many times, she enjoys things that interest her – like visiting the home used for Downton Abbey, or taking a Jane Austen tour.
“Often when my students travel they send me postcards,” Cahalan said.
She smiled when she recalled one of them.
“I’m at the Louvre thinking of you,” it read.
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