Viewpoint

Honoring memory of former student

December 7, 2012 

Chris Tietjen sits in class in 2005.

COURTESY OF ADRIENNE DICKINSON

Chris Tietjen, former Arroyo Grande High School Eagle, was hit by a car and left to die by the side of the road in Nipomo on Nov. 12.

Chris was in my classroom every day at Arroyo Grande High School, and I remember him well. It is a bitter reality for Marie Coyner, I am sure, that she will probably be spending time in jail. She was texting when she veered off the road and hit him as he walked. But this is a tribute to Chris from his former teacher.

Chris was tall and thin, with dark curly hair and glasses that kept sliding down his nose. He had a little habit of tilting his head back so he could see the board or anyone he was talking with, though he pushed his glasses up at times. His handwriting was tall and thin, willowy and unique — just like Chris. Chris was courteous and conscientious, trying his best at all times to understand what was expected. He was quick to smile, but was quiet. He would respond, but he was tentative at times.

It was interesting to read in The Tribune article how he talked all the time. He didn’t do that in class, as I remember. He was happy and liked the other students, laughed at funny things that happened, but was not in the center of the action. Chris was very sweet. He would never do anything to bother anyone on purpose.

Chris was on my caseload for all his four years at Arroyo Grande High School, which means I had the care of his Individual Education Plan. Many fine, worthy students and people have IEPs. Over many years, I had experience with all kinds of students, having three teaching credentials. My last credential allowed me to work with students in Special Education. I realized, over the course of my career, that everyone has disabilities in some areas and gifts in some areas.

I was interested to see Chris’ picture in The Tribune as a more grown-up young man. He was a good-looking 24-year-old, and I was happy that he was working for Achievement House and very happy that he had a counselor who was looking after him and knew his plans for the holidays.

What a tragedy for Chris and for the driver that he was hit and killed. So many young people incessantly text, trying to hide their cell phones under their desks in class, and it is not just young people who are addicted. We all see drivers weaving on the freeway and pass them. Drunk? No — texting! Already one young man in Massachusetts was sentenced to two and one-half years in jail for texting and causing a death while driving.

Schools can’t pay for driver training, like they did when I was in high school. Young people don’t get training about what to be thinking about and watching for when driving. It’s not just what is in the DMV handbook and knowing how to steer a car that make a safe driver.

Anyway, I honor Chris Tietjen’s memory as someone who knew him and enjoyed his presence each day. I am thinking of his mother and how hard it must be to lose a son.

Adrienne Dickinson, who holds a master’s degree in special education, taught at Arroyo Grande High School for 11 years and retired in June 2012.

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