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Last deadline for a green-ink taskmaster

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Posted: Friday, April 12, 2002 10:00 pm

Just what has Roger Woo been up to all these years?

Using green ink to bully students, reportedly.

Extracting cookies or cans of Pepsi from students in exchange for a sage answer or insight, some say.

Quietly removing all students from a classroom to embarrass a kid who had the audacity to fall asleep in one of his classes, according to some sources.

I believe it all to be true. I have known the inimitable Woo for a decade or so now, and I am not in the least surprised to hear he is a slinger of green ink and a soda tyrant.

I also know Roger Woo to be an exceptional teacher, a gutsy champion of the First Amendment and a man who has inspired countless students to think critically and write clearly.

Richard Hanner

Alas, the green ink taskmaster has met his final deadline at Tokay High School. Three years ago, he stepped down as adviser of the Tokay Press. Now, he is finishing his final year as yearbook adviser, opting to teach photography and perhaps TV production in coming years.

"I'm ready for something new," he said. "I am ready for a new challenge."

Though it is a little painful to see Woo move on to other subjects, I understand it. Journalism, both academic and professional, can be supremely rewarding. It can also be exhausting. And in the past 21 years at Tokay High, Woo has been nothing less than a high-energy, Pepsi-swilling dynamo.

Under his mentorship, Tokay student publications have won regional and state recognition year after year. His students have gone on to top jobs in the media, education and law. Woo was recognized as Tokay's teacher of the year in 1997.

Woo was reared in Visalia and earned his mass communications degree from San Jose State and his teaching credential from California State University, Fresno. He taught at Clovis and Roosevelt high schools before landing at Tokay in 1980. Before long, he began his reign of creative terror.

"I was scared to death by him," said Juliet Michelsen, a former student who assumed the daunting task of succeeding Woo as newspaper adviser three years ago. "He was so demanding. He wanted perfection."

As a freshman, Michelsen said her stories were extensively marked up by Woo in his trademark green pen.

"He says he uses green because it is the color of hope," she said. "But to this day, when I see green ink, I tense up."

Over time, the green scribblings decreased and Michelsen's competence, and confidence, grew. Still, there were times when she would go to Woo with a question he felt she should know the answer to - or have the initiative to seek out the answer to on her own.

"In that case, he might charge you for the answer. Usually, it cost a cookie or a Pepsi. I remember scrambling all over Lodi looking for caffeine-free Pepsi, the only kind he will drink. I also became proficient at making chocolate chip cookies."

He was less than compassionate to the sleep-deprived in his class. One budding journalist dozed off only to awaken to an empty classroom. Woo had moved all of the other students to another room to isolate the sleepy student and teach a lesson.

Kristen Go, a former Woo minion who is now a reporter at the Arizona Republic, confirmed Woo's tactics and his obsession with Pepsi.

"He doesn't like to eat anywhere where they serve Coke. He thinks Pepsi has a better flavor. He is very particular about it," she said.

Yet once Woo has imparted journalistic fundamentals to his students, he stands squarely behind them. When Go was editor of the Tokay Press, school officials wanted to yank an ad being placed by Planned Parenthood.

"He said, 'It's your newspaper and it's your decision.' I don't know many teachers who would put their trust in a teen-ager and defy the administration."

Go decided to publish the ad. Woo did not flinch.

Go went on to become the High School Journalist of the Year in 1994 and worked at the Denver Post before taking her current job in Phoenix.

Last week, at a high school journalism conference in Arizona, she was prepared to give a presentation. Woo was attending the same conference and was scheduled to introduce Go.

"He came over and demanded to read my speech," Go said. "He said, 'I have to go over your speech and see if you made any mistakes.'"

Woo relented, Go said, but only after discovering he had forgotten his green pen.

Richard Hanner is the Lodi News-Sentinel's editor. He can be reached at (209) 369-7035; at 125 N. Church St., or via e-mail.

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