August 13, 2008
Midge Patzer Youth Guru
Teacher authors book of tools

Any teenager can tell you that the road to adulthood is sometimes smooth and sometimes filled with cracks and gravel, rocks and detours. It may even be blocked by a boulder or two. Any parent can tell you that trying to guide a teen sometimes feels as if you are moving in circles, or worse, into a dead-end. But according to a recently published local educator, life with a teen can be enjoyable.

When Valley resident Midge Patzer began teaching teenagers at Wood River High School 30 years ago, she never imagined that her passion for education and youth would eventually give birth to her own book. Now her guidance is available to all through her book, Teenagers: Unlocking Personal Power (Robbie Dean Press, Ann Arbor, $19.95.)

Patzer’s book grew less from the literary ambitions of its author than from her reputation for having marvelous skills as an educator and teen advocate. A teacher of physical education along with the “Psychology of Success” course, she is a popular and respected educator. In 2003, she received the Presidential Scholars’ Teacher Recognition Award. She is a speaker at this year’s Sun Valley Wellness Festival, after a successful 2005 appearance, and she was the graduation keynote speaker at Wood River High School in 2002 and 2005.

So profoundly did her work and teaching style impress her friends, students’ parents, and family members, they urged her to chronicle her thoughts.

At first, she was unsure, but realizing how broad her reach could be with a book, she decided to go for it.

“No one,” she confesses, “is more surprised than me.”

The title and content of the book come from her work in the course she created for juniors and seniors called “Psychology of Success.” Offered five days a week, for twelve weeks, the course focuses on unlocking personal power and uses hands-on techniques to get kids engaged and focused on staying in control of what they do and who they become.

Patzer works as a “life coach” with teenagers and adults, dealing with many of the same issues. “I no longer coach sports. I am a life coach specializing in personal power,” she says.

And although her techniques are “critical for any age,” Patzer presents them in her book as tools to be used by adults who are looking for insight into how the teen’s mind works and how to have a positive relationship with one.

“I focus a lot on communication techniques,” she adds, although other topics such as controlling anger, personal responsibility, and setting personal goals for success are also part of the plan. So is an element of fun.

The major tools are caring and trust.

“First I care, then I offer information. Because,” she says, and begins to recite her favorite quote and mantra of teaching, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Asked what single mistake teens or their parents make most often in trying to breach the gap, she says, “I don’t feel that either students or parents ‘make mistakes.’ They might not have the tools needed to deal with a situation, but I believe we all do the best we can at any given moment.”

Using what she knows how to do best, Patzer has steadfastly attempted to cross boundaries between adult and teen, teacher and student, to make a difference. She has shown many teens that if one path doesn’t seem right, they can choose another. They even have the strength to build their own road when there seems to be no other way.

And because of this, her face and voice will live in the memory of many a Wood River High School student as they begin their journey into adulthood.

In the words of one of her students, “You know what’s cool, Patzer? Now I know what I want to do for a living. I want to be like you, Patzer. I want to help teenagers help themselves!”

This article appears in the Summer 2006 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.