Guy Brickell reflects on three decades of teaching at Glenwood Springs High School
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — After 30 years teaching at Glenwood Springs High School, retiring social studies and history teacher Guy Brickell said the hardest thing about leaving was just going through and cleaning out his desk.
“It’s kind of like a time capsule,” said Brickell, who is retiring from teaching at GSHS, but plans to continue coaching the Demons wrestling team while also taking a new job teaching at nearby St. Stephen’s School in Glenwood Springs.
Even when the high school moved into a new building in 2008, Brickell admits he didn’t do a lot of purging when it came time to move into his new classroom.
“I still have video tapes of some of the kids doing different lessons from who knows how many years ago,” Brickell said.
“I think I’ll miss the kids more than they’ll miss me,” he said. “I almost feel like they’re my kids, that’s how much you bond with them as a teacher.”
And, after all, it was the students and the supportive school community that Brickell said literally helped save his own life after the tragic loss of his son, Cody, 10 years ago.
“If I hadn’t had these kids, I don’t know if I would have gotten through that,” he said of the trauma he experienced after losing Cody in a car accident shortly after he had graduated from GSHS.
He said the same loving environment also surrounded Guy and Lynette Brickell’s two younger daughters, Cassie and Tiffany, who were still in high school at the time.
That’s what makes leaving hard.
But, after three decades of teaching ninth-12th grade social studies, world and American history, political science and advanced placements classes, it was time for a change, Brickell said.
Not ready to quit
Brickell, 55, has been with the Roaring Fork School District the longest among 16 district employees who are retiring this year. All of the district’s 2013 retirees were honored at a special reception on May 23.
“But I wasn’t quite ready to quit teaching,” Brickell said of his decision to take a new job teaching religion and physical education to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at St. Stephen’s, the K-8 Catholic school his own kids attended before going to GSHS.
“I’m real excited about this opportunity,” he said, adding that the decision was also faith-based, as a member of the St. Stephen’s parish. “There is a different philosophy about education there, and that will be fun to be around.”
Brickell credits his broader teaching philosophy to mentor and former boss Mike Wells, who was the principal at GSHS for 25 years before his own retirement in 2005.
“If there’s anybody I would credit my own teaching philosophy to it would be Mike,” he said. “He is very kid-centered in his approach, and I definitely would say I got that from him.
“He used to always say that he wanted every student to feel like they had at least one adult that they could go to in the school for advice.
“All I had to do was watch him, because he was such a good role model,” Brickell said of Wells, who was the commencement speaker at this year’s GSHS graduation.
“For me, the strongest teaching strategy is love, and how you relate to the kids,” he adds. “If the kids know you love them, you can get them to accomplish most anything.”
Thirty years of teaching social studies has also presented a lot of teaching moments around current events that have happened during that span.
“That’s the relevancy piece of it,” he said, reflecting on events such as the bringing down of the wall in East Germany and the end of the Soviet Union, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the human rights protests at Tiananmen Square in China, and the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks.
“If you can tie history into what’s going on today, it helps make the kids understand so much better why it’s important,” he said. “When I started teaching at 21, I never thought I would be teaching about the end of the Cold War, for instance. That was just unbelievable at the time.”
Reflecting on those moments in history now “helps students become curious about the history they’re witnessing today,” Brickell said.
The march of technology
One of the biggest changes in those 30 years has been the boom in technology, and how that has affected both teaching and learning, and public education in general, he said.
Those changes have been “both good and bad,” Brickell said.
On the plus side, history and information about world events are at a students’ fingertips via the Internet, he noted.
“But the one thing that makes it a negative is that data drives everything,” he said. “We depend so much on technology now to drive things, that everything sort of becomes impersonal.
“There needs to be a balance,” Brickell said. “You can’t be a teacher who relates to the kids if you’re only focused on the data.”
Brickell grew up in Colorado Springs and taught for three years in Wyoming before he and Lynette moved to Glenwood Springs and started a family. One of his daughters, Cassie, is now a social studies and writing teacher at Glenwood Springs Middle School.
In addition to teaching, Brickell has been the wrestling coach at GSHS on and off for 23 years, and looks forward to continuing in that capacity.
“The strength of this school is the community,” Brickell said. “The parents are unbelievable, and the businesses in the community are so supportive of this school. That’s part of what makes it such a wonderful place.”
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