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Student teaching at age 22

Apr 29, 2012 - By Randy Tucker

Looking back with 20/20 hindsight garnered over a third of a century, it's easy to see the folly in the education curriculum offered by the University of Wyoming in the late 1970s.

I was a child of the 1960s and early 1970s. My generation was the first to experience life as unending educational "guinea pigs."

Into this morass wandered an idealistic 22-year old in the fall of 1979. My student teaching assignment was Cheyenne Central High School. Central was one of the preferred locations within easy commuting distance of Laramie. Not a bad deal in a bygone era when college students were poor and strapped for cash.

As a UW student I had quickly learned the system. Football players were given first choice in registering for classes. The old half-acre gym was packed with class cards manned by overworked clerks. For a six-pack, my friend Leon, a defensive tackle, pulled all my class cards, put them in his pocket and give them to me. Inventory was sketchy in those pre-computerized days, and all I had to do was wait a couple of days until it was my turn to "register" then mill around the gym for a few minutes and check out with the classes from Leon.

On the off chance that the guy who pulled the strings to get me the assignment in Cheyenne is still with the university, I'll leave his name out of this.

My summer with Alder Construction helping build Riverton's water treatment facility came to an end in mid-August, and I set off for my final year as a full-time college student.

Orientation at Cheyenne Central was a bit daunting for a Wind River High School grad. There were more Laramie County 1 teachers in the building than there were students in all of School District 6.

As I sat with about 35 other student teachers, we began to guess who our supervising teacher would be. Mine turned out to be Mr. William Dubois. That's Bill Dubois, pronounced just like my favorite little town to the west of us. Bill was a bit eccentric but the best supervising teacher anyone could ask for.

At the time he seemed quite ancient, as did his friends. It is hard to believe now, but none of these guys was even 40 years old yet.

Bill taught three sections of American history and three of the American frontier, subjects perfectly aligned to my interests.

As administrators addressed the assembly, it became clear that college was over. Almost no one was paying attention to them as everyone "assumed the position" and began another school year. It was a feeling I'd grow very familiar with over the next 32 years.

I walked into the building on a sunny Monday morning and right into a knife fight... between two girls. Evidently, they were fighting over a boy. A science teacher and former linebacker for the Cowboys yelled at me to grab one of them. I did. Luckily she wasn't the one with the knife. He rammed the other girl as hard as I'd seen him hit CSU or Air Force running backs, and she dropped the knife and crumpled to the floor. I didn't see either one of those kids on campus again.

My first five minutes in the public school realm were an eye-opener.

Student teaching was invaluable. As useless as most of the classes in the College of Education were, student teaching was the exception. You either sank or swam, and a good supervising teacher was the key to your success or failure.

Bill Dubois was the best. With two weeks left in my student teaching assignment, he was so confident in my abilities that he took a two-week vacation with his girlfriend to Hawaii, leaving me alone with the kids. It was great.

Wyoming had "Interview Days" in the spring. Administrators from around the state came to the university to take applications and conduct interviews.

I applied for every available social studies or history job in the state and came up with four interviews: Rawlins, Casper Natrona, Arvada Clearmont, and Lusk.

Rawlins was the most interesting. The principal and athletic director conducted the interviews, and they didn't care much about teaching.

"What professional football experience do you have?" the AD asked.

I said, "I'm a Raiders fan."

Wrong answer.

"OK, what major college football experience do you have?"

I said, "I have a lot of friends that played for the Cowboys. Does that count?"

They weren't amused and indicated that anyone coaching in Rawlins must have either college or pro experience.

I laughed aloud and said, "Rawlins? Really?"

That interview was over.

Casper was very professional, but I was a Class B kid and didn't know about stepping into a school of more than 2,000 students and Class AA coaching with the legendary Art Hill.

The superintendent from Arvada Clearmont had a unique approach.

"Son, do you like to hunt?"

I said yes, I was an avid duck hunter.

He slid a contract across the table for $12,200 and said, "Best pheasant and turkey hunting in Wyoming. White tails, elk and muleys too."

He seemed a little too much like a used car salesman, so I didn't sign on the spot.

That left Lusk. Niobrara County required an onsite interview as a second step. Three weeks later I was heading east from Orin Junction.

I signed with the Lusk Tigers after a brief interview with the principal, athletic director and head football coach for $13,000 a year.

The adventure was about to begin in earnest.

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