Mr. Gary Goodchuck taught American history, social studies, government, and speech to nearly three generations of students in Wauneta. He was a unique and nontraditional teacher. Anyone fortunate to have been one of his students knows this and has several “Goodchuck stories” to tell.
In the many classes we had with Mr. Goodchuck from junior high through high school, I do not remember seeing or using a text book. There was a time he had picked up some books at a garage sale and divided them among the students by tearing the books apart and handing out the chapters. “You take chapter 1, you take chapter 2, you take chapter 3,” and so on down the line. Having been taught to treat books with reverence and respect since grade school, seeing a teacher tear a book apart was dramatic and memorable. When asked why he was doing that, he simply said, “It’s just a book.” Instead of using textbooks in his class, Mr. Goodchuck, like a college professor, would lecture in the Socratic method based on his extensive reading and travels. He used slides of photographs he had taken, copies of state and federal legislation he had obtained, and the Omaha World Herald. Each day, 26 Omaha World Herald newspapers, purchased with his own money, were delivered to the school. Setting a paper on each of the desks in his classroom was one of the first things Mr. Goodchuck did when he arrived at 5:00 a.m. every school day.
His classroom was nontraditional as well. Like a corporate retreat or business conference room, the desks were arranged in a circle around the perimeter facing the center of the room. This was to encourage discussion and debate. There was a light-blue carpet that matched the light-blue-painted walls. Posters of Yellowstone, Fort Laramie, and Washington, DC, decorated the room. His desk was in the far corner, facing the room. Similar to the office of a member of Congress (I noticed this similarity many years later), he had the U.S. flag standing next to his desk and on the other side of the desk, in recognition of the “mother country,” stood the British flag. There was a couch, two chairs, end tables with lamps, and a coffee table in front of his desk. It looked like someone’s living room or a display at a furniture store. It was all very nice, exceptionally clean, and paid for by him. He referred to the furniture as the “soft section,” and that was where the good students could sit during class.
Good students were those who engaged in classroom discussions, asked questions, and paid attention. Mr. Goodchuck commanded respect. Misbehavior would earn a sharp rebuke or immediate expulsion from class. Expulsions could happen easily and were therefore uncommon. Misfolding the Omaha World Herald was a sin, and tracking mud on his blue carpet was a mortal sin. In all his classes, he had two kinds of tests. The first consisted of a list of lecture terms to be defined by the students. For the other, more common test (my favorite for all that it taught), he would simply hand out blank pieces of paper with the command, “Write what you know.”
Mr. Goodchuck’s teaching was always about key individuals in history and what they had endured and accomplished. He cared deeply about his students and wanted them to speak and think for themselves. He abhorred and mocked socialism. He prized individuality, public speaking, reading, writing skills, and higher education, and he preached travel, travel, travel.
Mr. Goodchuck wanted his students to succeed and to experience the world beyond our immediate horizons. He taught us how to think—not what to think—and to know that, as individuals, we choose our own path. What a wonderful gift Mr. Goodchuck was. He will always be remembered with tremendous respect and gratitude.
President and CEO
Water Strategies LLC