Mrs. Molin

This is about my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Molin. I try to share this every National Teachers Day but I am choosing to post today on the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week because, let’s be honest, teachers like Mrs. Molin should be thanked all week! Heck, all month!

When I first started running for the Senate back in 2007, I got a letter from my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Molin. It started this way:

Dear Mr. Franken,

If you’re the Alan Franken who I taught in the fourth grade at Cedar Manor, then it doesn’t surprise me that you are running for the Senate, because you were a very good student.

I looked Mrs. Molin up in the phone book and gave her a call. “You remember me!?” she asked.

“Yes, Mrs. Molin. Of course! I remember all my teachers at Cedar Manor.”

Then I went through my elementary school teachers, working backwards. I loved Mr. Knutson, my sixth-grade teacher. And Mrs. Longabaugh, my fifth-grade teacher. I told Mrs. Molin that she was my favorite, because she was. Then I told her that I didn’t much like my third-grade teacher, whom I will not name here.

“Well, she wasn’t very nurturing,” Mrs. Molin conceded in her adorable seventy-four-year-old Minnesota accent.

I invited Mrs. Molin to a campaign event at a house not far from hers. She came, and I instantly remembered why she had been my favorite. Mrs. Molin, still a small package, is a fireball of positive energy. I did the math and realized that she had been twenty-seven when she taught me to do the math. When I told her that in the fourth grade I thought she was kind of middle-aged, she laughed and gave me a little tweak on the cheek.

When you’re a kid, you don’t usually learn very much about your teachers. Mrs. Molin was one of seventeen children. Seventeen! She and her husband, Dean, didn’t have kids themselves. But over thirty-four years of teaching, she poured her energy and love into her students.

Me at nine. Believe it or not, I was something of a nerd. 

I ran the idea of Mrs. Molin doing my first ad by my media consultants. I sometimes joked that between me and incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (who grew up in Brooklyn and sounded like it), I was the only New York Jew in the race who had actually grown up in Minnesota. What better way to establish my roots than to feature my lovable spitfire of a fourth-grade teacher?

Mrs. Molin said, “Okay, Alan!”.

The ad was a back-and-forth—Mrs. Molin in a classroom, me at campaign headquarters.
“So, I read about this man running for U.S. Senate and I thought, ‘That’s the Alan Franken I taught in St. Louis Park.’”

“I got this letter from Mrs. Molin. She wanted to help with the campaign. So I asked her to be in a TV ad.”

“A TV ad?” Mrs. Molin offered the camera a perfect look of surprise. But she was immediately game, saying with a swing of her arm, “Okay! Here we go!”

Then Mrs. Molin gave my bio, accompanied by photos from my life. Including one of me as a nerdy, gap-tooth fourth grader included in this post.

“He was funny, too,” she said, as we cut to a photo of me with the SNL cast. “I guess that’s why he became a comedian.”

“I was really more of a satirist,” I protested, still at headquarters.

“Okay, Alan,” she said, as if to a nine-year-old. 

The ad ended with me alongside Mrs. Molin in the classroom. “Thanks, Mrs. Molin.”

“You’re welcome, Alan.”

I turned to camera with a delighted smile. “I’m Al…an Franken, and I approve this message.”

The ad was a huge hit. We started getting emails at the campaign from Mrs. Molin’s former students and forwarded them on to her. Mrs. Molin would share some of them with me. I will never forget one in particular. 

Dear Mrs. Molin,

You were my favorite teacher. I wasn’t a very good student, because there was stuff going on at home. I had a hard time with math, and your spelling tests were hard! But you saw that I liked art, and I remember you staying after school one day to paint a window with me. You made me feel special (loved). Now I’m a teacher too. I teach special ed kids. And I try every day to make them feel the way you made me feel. And I just wanted to say thank you.

Val Molin is still making people feel special. She and Dean have been married for sixty-three years. They winter in Arizona, and we make sure to see each other every summer at the Minnesota State Fair.