Impact of retired teacher still prominent

Impact of retired teacher still prominent

Adam Schoelz

Bill Priest chatted with students in his AP European History class as he passed out tests when he still taught at RBHS. Photo by Asa Lory
Bill Priest.
It is a name familiar to a fair few at RBHS, known to both former students and current teachers alike, a name that inspires fierce loyalty among some and stirs less noble emotions in others. It is a name that taught thousands U.S. history during the course of a teaching career that spanned multiple decades, matched with a voice that has lectured for hundreds of hours, gravelly and deep, that has both lulled students to sleep and shaken them awake.
It is a name, and a voice, that senior Sam Keller would like to know better. Perhaps over dinner.
“This idea came because number one, I love to cook, and number two, dinner conversation is always fun,” Keller said. “I thought, ‘well, which one of my teachers do I like having conversations with the most,’ and that would be Mr. Priest because he’s really funny and very intellectual, so he thinks of really witty ways of being sarcastic, and sometimes very mean ways of talking to people, and it’s hilarious.”
Keller might just be in it for the fun, but Priest said expanding on the student-teacher relationship after high school can be very important. Though the ‘generation gap’ may be wider than ever because of technological and social changes, he said the two still have so much to relate and to learn from each other that to abandon such relationships is wasteful in the least.
“Today, many people don’t interact in a social or intellectual way across generational divides beyond the workplace,” Priest said in an email interview. “While I certainly can sense the growing ‘gap’ between my life experiences when younger and the sort of challenges young people face today, it doesn’t mean we necessarily cannot identify with one another’s lives. It requires communication. I enjoy that process and always have. It was one of the best things about a teaching career.”
Senior Andrew Hutchinson also believes in the value of a student-teacher relationship beyond the classroom. Hutchinson said Priest was one of his favorite teachers, and a dinner would give him a chance to get Priest’s real opinions on both modern political and historical events.
“In the classroom you can only get so much opinion,” Hutchinson said. “It’d be interesting to talk to him about how he really feels instead of the objective way he presented it.”
Keller was a student in Priest’s 4th hour AP US History class during the 2011-2012 school year, which he described as both hilarious and interesting. Keller admits he and Priest had a slightly adversarial relationship; Keller thinks this is what makes Priest so compelling to him.
“Mr. Priest and I had a very love-hate relationship, because he was very no nonsense, and I was very nonsensical in class. I would just joke around with him the entire hour, and he’s very good about not taking any crap from anybody,” Keller said. “If I say something goofy or talk out in class, he’d think of a really funny way to come back at me. He is one of the few people in the world that I love listening to him making fun of me; it’s great.”
While he’s open to meeting up with old students and has tried to organize a dinner with Keller, Priest said it’s easy for a retired teacher to become an unwelcome guest due to the busy schedules of students and teachers. There is enough to do in retirement, he said, that between chopping wood and taking care of foster dogs, RBHS has faded from his mind.
“When people retire they quickly, if not immediately, become extraneous dead weight. Students and teachers are busy and usually do not need additional distractions from outsiders to disrupt their busy days. I remember how that was and wouldn’t want to become one of those unwelcome distractions,” Priest said. “Retirement is wonderful so far. I realized when the weather began to moderate at night and the early mornings were cool and peaceful, that this would be the first fall in 50 years that I hadn’t been in school as a student, teacher or both.”
Both Hutchinson and Keller said they didn’t think Priest would become a burden. Keller said Priest would be a great aid in applying for colleges, and Hutchinson, who wants to be a history teacher after post-secondary education, said advice from Priest would be invaluable, especially as the comparisons between the two became rather pointed.
“I remember when we looked at pictures of Mr. Priest when he was 17, he looked a lot like me actually, which is hilarious,” Hutchinson said. “If I could reach that level of respect and carve an AP Euro course, that would be awesome and I would feel content with my life.”
Priest retired last year, and the last batch of students he taught are seniors this year. Hutchinson said Priest was surprisingly devoted to teaching even in his last year; Priest, he said, was one of those people who never really stopped being students.
“I don’t think he was ever content with what he knew; I think he always wanted to learn more,” Hutchinson said. “If people were listening to him, he would talk about something — educate you if you wanted to be educated.”
Keller wanted to have dinner with Priest before the teacher retired, he said. As cooking is something of a passion for Keller, he said that a homecooked meal would be most appropriate. As for the menu, Keller said he would try and stick to American themes for his U.S. history teacher.
“Roast beef or pork tenderloin, I’m not sure yet, some risotto, green bean casserole, maybe some rolls, just a classic American dinner,” Keller said. “I want to call it ‘The Bill Priest Fan Club.’”
By Adam Schoelz