Ron Klingner, a beloved Mount Hebron High School biology teacher who is battling an unknown disease, is leaving the classroom for good after some soul searching and repeated advice from his neurologist.
His reluctant retirement became effective July 1.
"My neurologist has been urging me for a long, long time, and I refused to accept that," said Klingner, who had been on medical leave since March. "I finally had to accept that because I thought about my students this past year and that I wanted to get back to them - and I couldn't and how it was unfair to them. I didn't want to do that to another group of kids."
Klingner, who turned 55 Monday, is continuing chemotherapy to fight a progressive neurological disease that began showing symptoms two winters ago.
Doctors have ruled out multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), but Klingner's illness is yet to be diagnosed. Symptoms include fatigue, lack of balance and stamina, poor vision and no sensation in his lower extremities.
Since he has been out of the classroom, his students and colleagues have rallied around him, creating a Web site (http://ronklingner.org), organizing fund-raisers to help pay medical bills and hoping that he would return to the school soon.
Now, they are wishing the best for the educator, who is known for his creative teaching style, including drawing lifelike sketches of animals on the blackboard. Klingner, also a wildlife art illustrator, has taught in the Howard County school system for 27 years.
'Hard to replace'"[Mount] Hebron has a fine science staff. Someone of his magnitude will be hard to replace," said John Quinn, the school system's coordinator of secondary science.
Added Mount Hebron Principal Veronica Bohn, who released a statement yesterday, "Mr. Klingner's retirement is a huge loss for the Mount Hebron community. His teaching combined knowledge, talent and heart. I hope his health will allow him to continue his artwork so that his gift for teaching will extend to all those touched by his example of strength and skills."
Kensey Morris, 23, a former student who was Klingner's substitute, said she had "pretty big shoes" to fill when she took over in March. Frequently, Morris said, she thought about how Klingner "would teach this lesson, how he would engage the class."
'A great loss'
"Obviously, it's a great loss," Morris said of Klingner's retirement. "A lot of younger brothers and sisters look forward to having him as a teacher after hearing all the stories. He's a great spirit in and out of the classroom."
She added, "I'm sad to hear that he's leaving. At the same time, we want him to stay around a lot longer, and if retirement means he could focus on his health, I'd rather he be in that position."
Klingner said this week from his Ellicott City home that he is showing small signs of improvements through chemotherapy.
"It has given me some strength in my legs, but I lost strength in my arms," he said. "I gain here but lose there. It's a give-and-take situation. Two weeks ago, I went into kidney failure because of the chemotherapy. I still have days where I lose my vision."
'I miss it already'
This summer is the first in his 31-year teaching career that Klingner is not preparing his lesson plans for a new school year. Though not teaching, Klingner is pursuing his natural wildlife art. (An exhibit is planned for later this summer at the Board of Education building in Ellicott City.)
"I still catch myself thinking about, 'Gee, next year, I would do this, this and this,' " he said. "But there's not going to be a next year. It's funny but tough in a way. I miss it already."