By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, WAVERLY, WINSTED, MN Even though he won’t be teaching anymore, Charlie Bush’s classes are ones students aren’t likely to forget.
“Some of the things I do are a little unorthodox,” the retiring Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School English teacher admits with a smile.
Each day, he welcomes students at the door with a handshake. Bush explains that he’s teaching them a life skill, because they’ll need to know how to greet people.
“He doesn’t just teach you English,” sophomore Katelin Schroeder commented.
Since he started his career at HLWW 41 years ago, Bush has focused on developing the whole student, not merely helping them memorize information.
“You don’t always remember the content of what was taught in high school, but you always remember the personalities how they presented it,” Bush said. “I’m fearful that we’re losing that connection.”
Bush said one of the reasons he’s retiring this year is because of all the changes in education.
“It really has changed,” he said. “It’s to the point that you have to change with it, and some of it doesn’t make sense.”
Happy he chose HLWW
Bush began teaching in 1971. He had just turned 22, and was a recent graduate of St. Cloud State University. He and his wife, Pam, had one child and one on the way when he got the job at HLWW.
“I had three job offers, and this is the one I was supposed to take,” he said. “I tend to believe that everything happens for a reason.”
Several other new teachers came on board that year, and Bush said it was fun learning from each other.
“We were given the creativity to develop our own curriculum,” he said. “Now, we’ve lost some of that, and more of the emphasis is on testing.”
Bush said that in some ways, staff and students taught him more than he ever taught them.
Most memories have been happy, but he’s also experienced deep sorrow, through the deaths of a few students and staff throughout the years.
“I was really fortunate to have worked with some great people,” he said. “It’s been a good trip.”
Skills for life
For Bush, teaching English has been a way to equip students for success in relationships and careers. In addition to grammar and reading comprehension, he also concentrates on verbal communication and social skills.
In the past, Bush’s students were asked to interview someone 65 or older about their life. Students then wrote five-page reports, and presented their findings to the class.
“Some of them were phenomenal,” Bush said, recalling one student’s interview of a woman who was in Poland during WWII. When Germany invaded, the woman saw the Nazis throw babies into the air and shoot them.
Bush said some students interviewed their grandparents. Later, when those grandparents died, the stories were presented at their wake.
When asked about his classroom structure, Bush just laughs.
“I don’t have any structure,” he said. “That’s why I love the area [of English]. We’re free to go. There are so many themes you can expand on.”
Unassigned seating is part of that open atmosphere.
“I figure that if they can drive a car at 16, they can find a place to sit on their own,” Bush said. “We live in a fear-based society. So many decisions are made by parents, and kids become less mature because of it.”
Bush said he is skeptical about the benefits of relying on technology, as well.
“People depend more on computers for everything,” he said. “Technology is supposed to be such a good thing, but I don’t know that it has been.
“The family structure has changed, and our culture has changed,” he added. “It seems that today, more than ever, students need that adult influence.”
Bush’s unconventional style also applies to discipline.
For minor infractions, he gives students the option of bringing donuts or popsicles for the class.
“It’s one of those things they won’t forget, and it does cost them,” he said.
Bush doesn’t know if he is the longest-serving teacher at HLWW, but guesses that he might be. It is common for teachers to leave when they are eligible for retirement benefits, he explained.
“I could have gone seven years ago, but I truly enjoy the kids,” he said. “They make you mad at times, of course, but I really enjoy their energy level. I’m like a grandpa.”
Bush is also a grandpa in his own family.
He and Pam have two daughters (Kim and Keri), three grandchildren (Meghan, Tyler, and Noah), and one great-granddaughter (Lily).
“That’s one of the great things about retirement,” Bush said, explaining that he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family.
That doesn’t mean he won’t be sad to leave HLWW, however.
“I’ll miss it I know I will,” Bush said. “I know the last day will be a tough one.”