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Blast from the past

Natalie Murphy

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Teachers reminisce about high school years, share hopes for students


Question #1- What were you like in High School?

Cowles: “I kind of hopped between many worlds in the sense that I was in marching band, so I was kind of a band geek, but I also played basketball, so I was kind of a jock. I was in all honors classes, so I was kind of a ‘study guy’ too. I was still tall and goofy and friendly.”

schuler in high school

Schuler’s senior photo. Photo courtesy of Paul Schuler.

Schuler: “I was kind of a loner in high school; I had a couple friends that I hung out with but not too many. I liked to go to heavy metal concerts. I kind of hung around with a crew that liked to do the same thing.”

Ghazi: “I was a band member and I also was in student council and senior council. I was part of the decoration committee. In 10th, 11th and 12th grade, I knew it was going to be art even though I had spent a lot of time with music. I knew that I had set my goals to be an art teacher pretty early on. I graduated top 5 percent, there were about 450 students in my graduating class in 1974. I really did have a good time. There were a lot of things that I did as far as extra-curricular [activities] go. I wasn’t athletic at all. The only athletic thing that I did was marching band. What I did in that time was pretty much all fine arts oriented.”

Wydeven: “I wore a leather jacket, a silver cross and black T-shirts. I had long hair that I parted in the middle. I wore it as long as I could. I liked to play hacky sack. I had a crew of really good neighborhood buddies. We hung out and played after school and got into mischief. I liked English class a lot, but I was never a very good student. I did the minimum, and I knew where the “pass-fail”  line was, so I always passed my classes, but would not take the best advantage of the education that was offered to me.”

Northcutt: “I was a choir dork. I was president of the choir but I was also on the volleyball team, so I was mixed between two worlds, or the ‘cool’ people and the outcasts, and comfortable in both.”

Question #2- What was your high school like?

Schuler: “It was a lot like McCallum. It was a very diverse school in San Antonio. It was pretty big. I had a graduating class of about 700. The student make-up was pretty much the same. If I went to McCallum, I’d probably hang out with the same people I hung out with in high school, so like people who go to heavy metal concerts or like to play video games.”

Cowles: “I went to Bellaire High School in Houston. It’s a very big high school; it was 5A. It was very competitive academically. We typically had when like 25 to 28 Nation Merit finalists when I was there. We were very competitive in all sorts of competitions and that sort of thing, but there was also a pretty good mixture of students. It was much larger and more ‘high powered’ [than McCallum]. The library would be packed during in-between times and people would go study. After school, it would be packed with study groups. We could eat in certain parts of the library, so during lunch hours it would be packed with people studying and doing study groups and all that sort of thing.”

Ghazi: “I went to Roy Miller High School in Corpus Christi from ’71 through ’74. All of my family went to that high school. If you compare it to one here in AISD, it would be similar to Travis High School. It was large, but it wasn’t the biggest one as far as the student count.”

Northcutt: “My high school was really obnoxious. I try not to tell my students where I went. I didn’t really ever feel like my family fit in there, and when we graduated, my family moved out of there.”

Wydeven: “I went to Central High School. Go Eagles! It was big. It was like 1,800 kids. It was in Omaha , Nebraska, and it was the ex-capitol building. Back in the day, Omaha was the capitol, so this was the original building. It was really a cool school. First off, it was a one room schoolhouse back in 1860 that then became the capitol building. They built all these wings around the original school house and then tore out the original schoolhouse, so what we had was this square building with a large courtyard in the middle that we could eat lunch in. It was a college prep school. It was the school in Omaha that was kind of magnated towards college prep, whereas there was a tech school and a wood shop school and different magnets [elsewhere].”

Question #3- How was your high school similar to McCallum?

Cowles: “There was a very big interest in getting a well-rounded education. I think one of the things that McCallum does well is that we have academics and athletics and fine arts, so students have lots of different opportunities and that was also very much the case as Bellaire. There were lots of opportunities. You could do lots of things that were still very motived, though not as extensive as here, but they were still very motivated. People liked to do them. They were interesting.”

Wydeven: “It was a super diverse population. Because it was the college prep school, it was fed into from all over the city and anybody in Omaha could go to Central regardless of where you live. But it was also right next to downtown, so demographically it pulled from the very poor and the very rich.  There was a huge, wide socioeconomic spectrum there. There were people of all walks of life, all colors, all manners of dress and in that it was really, I think, a good experience.’

 Question #4- What’s the best thing about being a teenager?

Ghazi: “If you don’t have to go get a job, you’re lucky. There are students that have to go work, but there are parents that are comfortable enough in their income that their students don’t have to go work so that they can contribute to the family income. If that’s your case, thank your lucky stars. Because without a job, being a teenager is almost responsibility free. All you have to do is focus and concentrate on what you’re doing in high school and try to do well.”

Schuler: “The best thing about being a teenager is not having to worry about paying bills and having the freedom to do whatever you want.”

Cowles: “Compared to being an adult, your amount of responsibility is just minimal. It’s easier to mix social time with your obligations. Yes, you have to get done what you need to get done, but there’s also lots of opportunities like group study time and that kind of thing. You know, there’s no ‘group parenting time’ or anything like that.”

Northcutt: “The thought that anything is possible. There are no doors closed to you. I feel like when you get to an adult, like I’m gonna have to admit to myself that I’m never gonna be, you know, a superstar. I’m like 40. Its not gonna happen. But when you’re a teenager, all those doors are open to you and its very freeing. Also, you don’t put boundaries around yourself. I remember when I was your age, I would throw parties and just invite everybody. I didn’t care about which friend group I was mixing. But now, if I were to throw a dinner party, I would be like, ‘Oh I can’t mix the pre-school friends with the work friends.’ Its just very free when you’re a teenager.”

Question #5- What’s the worst thing about being a teenager?

Schuler: “The worst thing was having to do things you didn’t want to, taking classes you weren’t interested in and having to see people you didn’t really care for every day at school.”

Cowles: “As teenagers we’re naturally insecure. You’re always kind of wondering academically, socially, ‘What do people think of me?’ ‘Do they really like me?’ There’s kind of that natural teenage insecurity that we all struggle with that still kind of carries on as an adult. You still sometimes wonder, particularly in your teenage years. I’m so much more confident in myself now than I was in high school. I was much more timid, much more passive. I was friendly with people that I knew, but outside of my group I didn’t have the confidence that I have now. Even in terms of in my instrument, I became a much better trumpet player. When I went off to college, I became a much better basketball player just because of the increasing confidence that comes with being older. I think one of the biggest struggles is trying to find your place. Its just a natural thing that all teenagers have to go through.”

Ghazi: “Some of the immature attitudes of the other kids who are [at your school]. You have to watch out when you’re making choices. If you make the wrong judgment choice, its kind of detrimental. It’s going to affect you in a broad sense.”

Wydeven: “Not knowing how to do things, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but like I’m 44 and I’m very comfortable in my own skin. When I was a teenager I thought everyone was looking at me and you had to be cool or you had to be this or that. I felt like for me personally in retrospect, the worst part of being a teenager was not really always flying my own flag but flying a flag that I thought other people wanted to see, so I made some decisions based on being popular or liked or whatnot that may or may not have been the most authentic decisions.”

Northcutt: “Insecurity and lack of confidence.”

Question #6- What is the most important lesson you want to teach your students?

Cowles: “I think the biggest lesson I try to teach is not necessarily only the content. It’s the skills. One of the things I like about statistics is it’s a very logical thinking process that I get to teach, and so as a result I think my students appreciate that skill even though it’s not necessarily content-driven. With PALs, one of the things I try to teach is the need to be aware of your surroundings, the importance of diversity, the importance of service. One of the neat things about PALs is we get the opportunity to emphasize service and helping kids and that kind of thing. I think those are life-long practices that as a society it would be more beneficial if we were helpful to those around us. I think we tend to get in our own little worlds and focus on that, and I think many of our struggles to find common ground are due to the fact that we don’t know people outside of our circle. Some of that happens because of the lack of service. If you go and do things with other groups you begin to see other groups, and how similar we actually are as opposed to our differences. I feel our differences are mostly nit-picky and we really have a lot of commonality in the United States, in Texas, is Austin. But sometimes we get out of the habit of helping others. I think one of the derivatives of that is it help us become happier and more confident in ourselves and more fortunate and all that sort of stuff. So I think that’s critical as well as trying to treat my students with respect and with kindness. I think they’ll remember how kind I am to them longer than they remember the Pythagorean Theorem.”

Wydeven: “Be passionate about stuff. Do it as well as you can. Find a passion, find something that you really like to do and invest yourself in it. Not 100 percent, stay balanced, but find time to do those things you’re really passionate about even if they’re ‘nerdy’ or ‘stupid’ or a waste of time. ”

Northcutt: “That they are loved.”

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