By Sofia Lynch
When Washtenaw Community College behavioral science faculty member Starr Burke came home to find her son holding his head in his hands, sobbing over his struggles with his high school math classes, she turned to the help of mathematics faculty member Mike King.
Between copious amounts of students seeking time during his office hours, King would take time to teach Burke – no matter how many times it took repeating – until she could go home and teach her son. Burke attributes her son’s ability to graduate from Michigan State University to the help that King gave her – something she says she will never forget.
“Passion, kindness… There aren’t enough words to describe what Mike King is all about,” Burke said, describing him. “I’m just forever grateful… He was always there for me… If we had to eulogize Mike King, it would just go on and on and on with all the people that he’s touched.”
After 14 years of connecting with and helping students, King celebrated his retirement from WCC at the end of this passing semester. To his students and colleagues alike he is known for an unending patience and knack for making a concept digestible.
“He could teach math to a porcupine,” Burke said.
Prior to his years at WCC, King spent 26 years teaching math at the high school level, until he was encouraged by his now-coworker, Mike Quail, to apply for a position at WCC. King cites his sophomore year of high school as the moment he knew he wanted to be a math teacher, due to the lack of quality teaching that he received as a student.
Working off of his knowledge of what a teacher shouldn’t be, King has become known in the WCC community for being a math teacher with the ability and the patience to make the subject matter clear for even those who struggle. Burke, whose office is adjacent to King’s, cited seeing students in and out of his office hours as much as they could be.
“It’s amazing how five minutes of one-on-one help can just do so much for students who aren’t getting it in the classroom,” King said of his commitment to using office hours.
King has grown to set such an example of what a teacher should be that both his children, Patrick and Megan, followed in his shoes and became teachers themselves.
“I think that says a whole lot about his character and what he’s done as a teacher that he offered a good role model for his own children to become teachers,” Quail said.
King isn’t just appreciated by his colleagues; his students all had nothing but kind words to share when speaking of him. When Vince Martin, a student of King’s, was asked what it was about his math class that he liked the most, he said, “Mike.” Martin cited taking a math class over the summer simply to have another one of King’s classes.
“If something was confusing to me or anyone else, he took the time and broke it down step-by-step no matter how many times it took,” said another of King’s students, 18-year-old Shaylin Marlow.
It was this connection with students and their successes that drives King as a teacher.
“I love being in a classroom and interacting with students,” King said. “When you see the light bulb go off, and you do see it, it’s just very rewarding.”
Aside from strong educational connections with students, King was also appreciated by his colleagues for being a personable and avid listener. Quail cited people always going to King’s office just to chat and get his insight.
“If someone’s got a problem or something, he doesn’t just ‘yes’ you. He will say something that’s on his mind that could be pertinent,” Quail said. “…I can’t find a person on campus, as far as a colleague goes, that doesn’t think he’s just a terrific human being.”
After 40 years of creating those ah-ha moments and deep connections, King, and his wife who also just retired, now turn to the next chapter in their lives. They have plans to go to Ireland this August, to travel south this winter, and then to continue traveling extensively after that. He also noted plans of volunteering, golfing, and prolific reading. Mike King’s absence will not go unnoticed in the campus community, however.
“LA 330 is going to take a big loss,” Quail said of the office he and many others shared with King. “I think there will be an emptiness down at that end of the hallway. There’s nobody that’s going to fill his shoes as far as I can see.”