By Charlotte Freer, Staff Writer
Don Bartlett, the man, the myth, the legend. After 29 years of teaching and coaching at New Paltz High School, he will be retiring at the end of the school year. Bartlett, who teaches economics and AP US History, has also been the head coach for boys track and girls swim team during his time at NPHS. For those who know him, his affinity for carpentry and prior work in the military are well documented by his many stories of the two. Which begs the question, how did he end up teaching APUSH in New Paltz?
Bartlett admits that when he got out of high school he had “no intention to be a teacher and no intention to go to college. So I joined the military because I needed to do something, and by a set of coincidences I wound up teaching other people how to repair navigation systems. And I enjoyed it.”
Bartlett also realized when he was in the military that to get where he wanted to be in life he needed to go to college. Once out of the military he started attending SUNY New Paltz where he planned on majoring in electrical engineering. His initial plan was that, “after I became an electrical engineer and made money that I would become a teacher, because I like teaching people. But it (teaching) wasn’t really in the front of my mind”
However, “electrical engineering was not a good choice for me,” he says, going on to explain that what he thought electrical engineering was was not what it actually turned out to be and he didn’t enjoy it at all. But while he was taking engineering classes, Bartlett had also picked up a job with a construction company that employed a lot of high school students that had to be taught. He decided to become a teacher and while originally planned to teach shop, bounced to math and ended up focusing on history.
During his tenure, Bartlett has seen a lot of change and growth in the high school. Much of this growth he credits to former principal and vice principal, Barbara Clinton and Dennis DiBari. He credits DiBari’s hallway patrolling to “changing the whole tone of the school,” which he said had previously been wrought with fighting and “other bad things.” He also emphasized the importance of maintaining the stricter hallway policies in order to keep chaos at a minimum.
Over the many years of teaching, Bartlett has been through some of NPHS’s most trying times. When asked about what the most difficult time of his career was, Bartlett said that one of his worst days was in 2015 when Kyle Brewer, a then sophomore, suffered from a heart attack during track practice and tragically passed away later in the evening. Bartlett, who was coaching with assistant coach Joe Foti at the time, described it as “awful. Nothing compares to that.” He also said that losing Maya Gold and Becca Lynch to suicide was equally as grueling; events like students passing away and dealing with other factors like drugs and violence are all very difficult .
Conversely, Bartlett will tell you that the highlights of his career have simply been “pretty much everything. I get paid to have fun, it’s a great job.” He stressed that he’s not retiring because he doesn’t enjoy doing it anymore, but that “it’s just time.” He believes that it’s important for teachers to retire before it becomes a chore, and acknowledges that as the age gap between he and his students stretches out more it becomes more difficult to relate. Bartlett admits that “until we started having students in the school, I was regretting not retiring. I was like, I don’t want to do this just staring at icons,” but ultimately was glad he stuck through this school year.
Having earlier mentioned that he’s now in his “grandpa” phase of teaching, he believes that he still has other things that he needs to do and that now is the right time to move on and start doing them. He’ll be moving to Maine over the summer to finish building a house before selling it, and then moving back to the area to do some construction work with his son. But only when he feels like it. A few years ago he had planned on maybe coaching for a college team, but now Bartlett is ready to be “free to do what I want to do when I want to do it,” and said that he thinks that he’ll always work but from now on it will be on his own terms.
The big thing that he’s going to miss once he retires? “Rooms full of kids. Seeing how they react when they see stuff for the first time- that’s cool because there’s a lot of stuff that you’re teaching that kids have never heard of before.”
His advice for students is: “the things you earn you get to keep. The things you don’t earn you’re just borrowing for a little while and then they disappear. So don’t be afraid to do the work to earn it.”
And his advice for teachers, and closing words, “Remember it’s just school. Don’t get so serious with the kids that they feel like the sky is falling down if they don’t do something that the teacher requires. You know, don’t get mad with the kids, because they’re, well, kids. Sometimes I think there’s like this pressure- and I’m sure I’ve done it myself plenty of times- about performance in the classroom. But it is just school. School is just a step we have to take to get prepared for life and I think that sometimes we as teachers forget that.”
Good luck to Mr. Bartlett on his next adventures, and many thanks for the years of dedication to teaching and guiding generations of NPHS students through the high school stage of their lives.
Featured Photo: Marty Brutvan