Two longtime teachers say ‘bye to Aspen High
Special to The Aspen Times
As Aspen High School concludes another academic year, two longtime teachers are concluding their careers in the classroom. Combined, they have been at Aspen High school for more than 50 years.
George Burson and Judy “Hootie” Wrigley have worked with thousands of kids as they passed through the school system and have had the opportunity to watch their students become young adults and successful human beings, say school administrators.
They have seen the faculty and staff change; they have watched the policies and direction shift. But their dedication to education and their love for their students has never wavered, said Superintendent Tom Farrell.
“A big part of the success of any program is the consistency of its staff, and these two teachers have been consistent and dedicated,” he said.
They have each seen 27 graduations, 27 proms, 27 “experiential educations,” 27 homecoming kings and queens, 54 finals weeks, hundreds of athletic events, and almost 3,000 kids pass through the halls of what could rightfully be called “their” high school.
“You don’t replace teachers like these two, for they are truly irreplaceable,” said Principal Kendall Evans.
History teacher Burson began his career in the military, following in the footsteps of his father, a career Air Force officer. As a result, he met with three situations that radically changed his view of America and of history, and gave him the desire to teach history as it really was, as opposed to what Americans desire it to be.
One experience was the Vietnam War, which ended his desire to be in the military, because “I could not understand why we had fought such a stupid war.”
His second experience came when he joined his family in Mississippi, where they had moved after he had completed high school in London. He moved there in 1960 during the height of the civil rights movement.
“I did not understand how we could be a country who boasts freedom and democracy, yet allows its citizens to be beaten with ax handles for using a white beach,” Burson recalled.
The final lesson was Watergate in 1970, which occurred as he was completing college.
Those experiences, as well as his love for history, drove him to the classroom, where his students say he increased their desire to understand history.
“He definitely increased my interest in history while I was in high school, which made me pursue it further,” said former student Noelle Waldron, who recently completed her student teaching under his direction. “And I returned to student teach under him because I thought I could learn a lot from his experience and wisdom.”
Mr. Burson is known by his students as the most demanding teacher at Aspen High. He expects hard work and a firm understanding of the material he teaches. The voices of complaint usually turn to voices of gratitude when his students return from college.
Burson said he believes that the belated thanks from his students and parents is the toughest part of his job. He said he will not miss having to always be the bad guy for students who do not know what is good for them.
At the same time, the belated gratitude from his students proves his educational philosophy to be true, he said. Burson believes that the reason high school exists is to provide a platform for students so that when they hit the “real world” they don’t get wiped out.
“George set a very high standard for his teaching and his students’ performance,” said Evans. “He was always professional and his commitment to teaching will be missed.”
That’s reflected in the advice he offers to other teachers: “Do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” He said teaching is a tough job, but that teachers owe their work to the students they teach and to the taxpayers.
Burson plans on doing as little as possible in the next few years, possibly a little work at the school.
Wrigley came to Aspen after meeting her soon-to-be husband on a ski trip, and later moved from California to marry him. She has been married for 26 years and has been teaching school in the Aspen School District for 27.
She is the smiling face that greets her students with a cheerful, “Hola,” as they enter her classroom. When she was younger, Wrigley had many different ideas about how to use her language skills, but ultimately found her niche in teaching.
Her favorite memories are the times when students laugh and enjoy each other as they speak in a foreign language, or when students come back to see her after further pursuing bilingual education.
Wrigley began a teaching style that has been adapted by the other teachers called TPRS, which, in short, is storytelling. She believes that shift in her teaching style was the most profound change in her professional life. She said it inspired the students to want to speak the language.
“I don’t think kids realize how talented she is with languages,” said Spanish teacher Charlie Anastas. “She has her Master’s in French, yet her Spanish is as good or better. It will be hard to find a replacement with her talent and experience.”
According to her students and peers, Wrigley is truly a teacher who loves her students, and loves their small and large successes – from their ability to speak in Spanish for two minutes, to seeing students performing in plays and skits, to students returning from semesters abroad, where they learned to speak a language fluently.
“She is a positive teacher with a good attitude who demonstrated her desire to help by her interest in her students’ lives,” said former student Alison Ortman.
Wrigley believes she is ready for retirement. She said she will miss the students and her colleagues.
“Judy was enthusiastic, always engaged, and had a desire to make the school a better place to learn,” said Principal Evans.
She plans on spending more time with her husband, at the gym and volunteering in the community.
As the final hats were tossed at graduation, the final papers were graded and the chaos of the final weeks of high school come to a close, two teachers, very different yet equally as important, will clean their classrooms and offices
They will pack up 27 years of artwork, papers, textbooks and gifts. After nearly three decades of being in school, they will pull their name off the door, and possibly swing past the counselor’s office for a little guidance on what to do when they get out of school.
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