Top Of The Class 1997 -- Outstanding Grads, Extraordinary Teachers -- He Gives His All Every Day No Matter What

KENT - On the closing night of the play "Death Takes A Holiday," Jim Doell's health took one, too.

The Kentridge High drama teacher wanted to be in the audience with his wife, Jane. But Doell's determination to never miss a day despite battling the flu finally caught up with him.

"I got as far as the makeup room," Doell says. "I literally collapsed on the floor."

Jane was oblivious. She thought there had been problems backstage. And though Doell was wrapped in a blanket, in a deep sleep and not saying a word, just having him there meant a lot to his students.

"Seeing Mr. Doell's love for the theater . . . has inspired me to continue with my dramatic career, with the hopes of majoring in dramatic arts in college," student Matt Loehrke wrote in a letter praising his teacher.

Doell, 58, a proud father and husband, attained both roles later in life than most. He brings his 3-year-old son, Joseph, to after-school rehearsals. "I want to spend as much time with him as I can," he says.

Doell's students praise him for his dedication and for making grueling production work seem fun. For "The Taming of the Shrew," he designed and constructed a two-story replica of the Globe Theater. During productions, Doell arrives at school at 6:15 a.m. to work on sets, then teaches five classes a day and, for three hours after school until about 6 p.m., he conducts rehearsals.

"The one thing I've learned from football coaches is that you

build students from Day 1 for that first contact," says Doell. "We call it rehearsal; they call it practice."

After that, "there's nothing I can do to save them. They're the ones on stage."

Doell, who is in his 11th year at Kentridge and his 35th year of teaching, says students hate hearing that they're being prepared for "the real world." So he tells them that this is the real world - that this is their job as a student. "I'm preparing you for right now," he tells them.

"The thing that's different from any teacher I've met is, he treats you like an adult," says junior Elizabeth Kempke.

Doell's attitude developed in response to one of his own former teachers. "One of the first things she said to us," he says, "was that in order to appreciate our education, we had to suffer a little. So I've made it a point that none of my students would suffer."

That doesn't mean easy A's. But Doell teaches his students the importance of finishing tasks early to ease workloads.

Doell remembers his own father, a part-time mechanic and carpenter. "If he'd had a hundred kids, every one would have had his attention. That's how I teach: Every student deserves my attention."