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Rhodes retires after 32 years teaching science

Staff writer

The future may be tabula rasa, a blank slate, for Bruce Rhodes.

After 32 years teaching USD 408 students, Thursday was his last day at Marion High School. 

“The hard part will be redefining who I am,” he said. “I’m not going to be ‘Mr. Rhodes, the science teacher,’ anymore.”

Until retirement, he was part of various school systems for his entire life.

“My mother and father were custodians when I was a kid, so I kind of grew up in school,” he said. “Then I went to college. After that, teaching seemed like a good fit.”

Drawn to science because of a desire to understand how things function, he received a bachelor’s degree in zoology in 1981 from Fort Hays University. In 1990, he received a master’s degree in evolutionary biology from Emporia State University.

Starting in the fall of 1983, he taught several levels of biology, chemistry, and physics at MHS.

Now 56, his goal was never to make students like science. Rather he sought to pass on knowledge they could carry with them throughout their lives.

“I knew every kid wasn’t going to be a scientist,” he said. “But I hoped that by learning the processes of the natural world they might come to understand something deeper about themselves.

“Sometimes it was a little hard to know how far to push some subjects we covered. As a teacher, you have to respect students’ beliefs. Still, in teaching science, evolution can’t be swept under the rug, and for a well-rounded education it’s good for them to know different sides of an issue.”

He found joy instructing not only the students who picked up information easily, but also those who needed an extra push.

Rhodes recalled one MHS alumnus who thanked him for not letting her give up on chemistry when she thought it was too tough. She told him she went into an unexpected science-related field largely because of his afterschool tutelage.

For Rhodes, part of his job was showing students how to “learn how to learn.” He said he always tried to show students who might have not have been excited about course material, that it was OK to learn even when some acted as if it wasn’t cool.

“There were some kids that said they didn’t care, but you can’t ignore science; it’s all around us,” Rhodes said. “Society and humanity doesn’t advance when people don’t care. Things get stagnant if we don’t keep trying to push the envelope of our understanding.”

He considers teaching an important duty and felt a great responsibility to students, some of whom went into medical fields, engineering, or other science-related occupations. For him, it is a good feeling to see former students go on to accomplish what they want.

Rhodes expects retirement to take some getting used to, but he said he knew it was time to leave.

“I always told myself that I wouldn’t just stay in the job because it was my spot,” he said. “I was a little tired of the political things with teaching. Not that Common Core is bad, but when I first started, I made decisions about what I taught. Now, you’re just told what to teach. I think it takes some of the flair and creativity out of teaching, but it was never about me. It was always about the kids.”

Although he has had some tough times, he said the past 32 years at USD 408 have been a blessing.

He spent Friday bringing incoming science teacher Brea Campbell, who is fresh out of college, up to speed.

Rhodes hopes to stay involved by substitute teaching. Regardless of what he does, there will still be someone from his family in Marion schools.

“I’ll be around,” he said. “My granddaughter, Brylee (Smith) starts kindergarten here next fall.”

Last modified May 27, 2015

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