Bart Mayes, Teacher, Mountain View High School
As a pre-med student at the University of Colorado, Bart Mayes knew one thing for sure: He was never going to be a teacher. Though his parents were both teachers in Thompson School District, Bart was sure that his passion was in science, not in education.
Now, having spent more than two decades as a teacher and coach, Bart will be the first one to say that his eventual decision to follow many of his family members into education was the best one he could have made.
Though he ended up with a degree in biology, Bart was soon offered a job teaching chemistry – the subject he disliked so much in college that he decided to switch his major. Of course, he plunged in headfirst, and was hired as one of the first group of teachers at Mountain View High School when it opened. He soon found chemistry was a natural fit for him.
“You learn really fast when you have to teach somebody else how to do something,” Bart says. “Who doesn’t like throwing chemicals together and seeing what happens?” Joking aside, Bart says he loves the intellectual stimulation that teaching chemistry provides. “Even after teaching it for 20-some years, it’s still a challenge,” especially since in addition to teaching the most advanced chemistry classes, Bart serves as the chair for the MVHS science department and also teaches a freshman-level class.
It’s especially challenging when you’re also the head coach of a high school football team. “I don’t know that I would ever recommend that someone be an AP chemistry teacher and be a head football coach at the same time. It’s very daunting,” Bart says.
But daunting doesn’t even begin to describe what Bart faced in the summer of 2018, when he and two of his fellow coaches were driving near Mountain View and were hit from behind by a vehicle going 60 miles an hour. The coaches’ car rolled five times, and Bart’s C2 and C3 vertebrae were shattered. He was put into a cumbersome halo, and was completely immobilized for over three months, missing the entire fall semester.
“It was the first time I hadn’t taught or coached in twenty-plus years,” Bart says. “It was a big life changer in many ways. It made me realize how fortunate we are, and how life can throw you a curveball.”
With all of the challenges came some surprising positive outcomes as well. Bart is filled with gratitude for his family, friends, co-workers and school district staff who were endlessly supportive and caring throughout the ordeal. And Bart says the accident has given him a whole new perspective, not only in life, but in the classroom as well.
“There were so many lessons, but the biggest was a mind shift from poor me. I learned how to change my focus from the negative. I have a lot of students going through times when life just knocks you down,” he says. “I’ve been there, where life has just sucker-punched me. What are you going to do? It’s been a paradigm shift from it being an awful thing – which it was – to seeing it as an opportunity.” That opportunity has been for Bart to share his story, which he says has been very therapeutic for him.
And now, a new challenge: Teaching and coaching in the age of COVID. Trying to teach a subject as hands-on as chemistry virtually has been difficult, Bart says, but even as hard as teaching during a pandemic has been, he can – again - find reasons to be positive.
“Any time a teacher looks back on how they teach something and tries to make that better in a significant way, that’s a good thing, and that’s one of the results of COVID,” he explains. “That’s a definite positive because it gets you out of your rut.”
Still, after all of these years teaching and coaching, something had to give, and Bart recently decided to retire from coaching football so he can spend more time with his wife and four kids. Wrapping up his final season was bittersweet, but Bart is excited for what the future holds.
“Our days are numbered,” he says. “I want to appreciate every second that I have. It’s a gift, for sure.”