After 44 years, Seubert ready to move on
MIDDLEBURY — Longtime English teacher Richard “Doc” Seubert has become part of the commencement tradition at Middlebury Union High School, assisting with graduation rehearsal and Project Graduation.
Next month, he’ll be among those passing on to the next phase of life.
“I’m finally going to be able to graduate,” Seubert said with a broad smile. “And the beat will go on.”
He has certainly earned it, after 44 years as an MUHS educator.
Seubert, 67, was a wide-eyed, 23-year-old graduate of the State University of New York at Oswego with a small amount of substitute teaching experience under his belt when he first strolled into MUHS room E106. Unbeknownst to Seubert at the time, E106 would become his home away from home for the next 44 years. He would also log thousands of hours on team buses during four decades of coaching primarily MUHS Tiger soccer and baseball, but also hoops and golf.
“It was back in the era when they were looking not only for a teacher, but also coaches,” Seubert said. “I had played soccer and baseball in college, and also basketball. They had an English position and some coaching positions available. I coached baseball and basketball my first two years, then left basketball and went to soccer.”
Evidence of Seubert’s lengthy tenure permeates the school. You look closely at where the wall meets the ceiling in E106, and you can see the last vestiges of some Dante-related classroom art from a Seubert English class that has now slipped into history.
When Seubert first started at MUHS in 1971, Richard Nixon was president and the draft was still in effect for soldiers to feed an unpopular war in Vietnam. Pens, pencils, notebooks and a chalkboard were the instructional tools of the day. Hand-outs were cranked out with a mimeograph machine. “High-tech” meant an overhead projector or slide show.
The chalkboard still clings to relevancy, but computers, smart boards, video and an LCD projector now help Seubert convey knowledge to his young charges.
“My (older) sister became a teacher; I had really good role models who were teachers that I looked up to,” Seubert said of what inspired him to become an educator. “I liked the dynamic of interacting with youth at that age, and the challenges. It hasn’t changed. They’re still facing similar kinds of uncertainties.”
Seubert has also enjoyed getting to know some of his students as athletes during his coaching years.
“I feel like I have been blessed getting a bigger sense of the person than just the impression one can be given in a classroom,” Seubert said. “It’s been a good fit.”
One of the highlights for Seubert has been teaching the courses “Memoirs” and “Western Heritage” — an offering that merges music, art, philosophy and literature in the study of various themes. The course offers students an opportunity to come out of their respective shells as they interpret great writing.
Seubert said it’s been powerful to see “reluctant students who are almost in a state of anxiety in feeling there is no way they can stand up in front of the class, yet they succeed. I’ve had some absolutely awe-inspiring performances from students you wouldn’t expect.”
It’s those moments that can turn a good teaching day into a great day, according to Seubert.
“Teaching is humbling, challenging and rewarding,” Seubert said. “I would encourage anyone with an interest in meeting challenges and wanting to have an impact, to consider it.”
Not all of the rewards come instantaneously.
“You know when you’ve failed and you have a modest sense when you have succeeded,” Seubert said. It sometimes takes several years to know whether a teacher’s efforts have truly had a positive impact on an individual student, he added.
He has forged bonds with some students that have lasted far beyond graduation.
“Having been here as long as I’ve been here, some of my former students are now really good friends,” Seubert said, adding he has had in his class the third generation of some of the MUHS students he first taught during the early 1970s.
“I knew every fall coming back that I wanted to be here,” he said. “I didn’t have any sense I was looking to go somewhere else. I think something happens when you start teaching somewhere — you live your life. Your life is a series of experiences and encounters with your family growing, and friends … You gear up over the summer to recharge the batteries, the kids come back full of energy, and it just goes. Before you know it, you’re recharging again during the summer and coming back at it.”
With one school campaign merging into the next, Seubert never really paused to think about the years he had logged as an educator.
Until this year.
It’s been a year of reflection.
“I’ve been kind of culling over the course of this year, encountering old projects and paintings and work the students have done, including old grade books,” Seubert said. “I don’t even look at the grades; I look at the names. The names remind me of a moment in time.
“The time went by quickly.”
He’s also joined Facebook, through which he has connected with many former students. It was through social media that Seubert informed the larger community of his retirement plans.
“There’s been an incredible outpouring of appreciation,” he said gratefully. “That’s where that deferred gratification acknowledgment (happens).”
Seubert continues to love his job, but believes it’s time for him to leave to do other things while he is still physically fit to pursue other interests, such as traveling, reading and playing guitar. Seubert’s spouse, Susan Rand, operates a bicycle touring company called “Sojourn,” and he’d like to assist her in that venture.
He is pleased to be leaving at a time when MUHS has a good blend of both veteran and young teachers to carry the torch. He believes the school has maintained a great reputation, due in no small measure to a supportive community.
“It makes being a teacher here that much more enjoyable,” Seubert said.
The recent, untimely deaths of two friends — including Middlebury’s Kelly Boe — in separate cycling accidents has reinforced Seubert’s sense of his own mortality, as has the terminal illness of one of his old college buddies.
“It’s a reminder that the clock ticks,” Seubert said. “You want to be able to hear the beat. I am excited about the opportunities that are out there.”
When asked what he would miss most about teaching, his response was immediate.
“The kids,” he said, adding it was a privilege to share important moments in their lives. “They are why we are here. You never want to forget it’s about them.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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