Thirty years at any institution brings a sense of family, and Chuck Hendricks said he felt proud to be the school’s “grandpa” this past year as Marlatt Elementary’s only male teacher.
Hendricks has been a sixth-grade teacher at the school for most of those years, but his duties were shuffled around and he taught fifth grade this past school year.
“There were some male student interns around, but I’m the grandpa here,” Hendricks said. “I’ve also been here the longest, so people know to come to me for anything they need, like boxes or rubbing alcohol or things like that.”
In addition to teaching fifth grade, Hendricks also taught math this past year at Marlatt. Usually, though, he teaches social studies and science.
“I like social studies and science because I like history and current events,” Hendricks said. “But math is enjoyable too because it’s real definite. It’s either wrong or it’s right, but there’s different ways of getting the right answer though.
“I enjoy reading myself, but I don’t feel like I’d be a very good language arts teacher,” Hendricks continued. “The good thing is we have other teachers who are great at that, and I enjoy watching them teach kids how to read.”
He considers himself very much a community man, having grown up on a farm just outside of Wamego, where he also attended middle and high school.
“I could say I’m a farmboy, but Manhattan is my home area,” Hendricks said.
Teaching runs in Hendricks’ family — his mother was a teacher at Northview Elementary for 34 years, and his wife, Kaye, retired from Amanda Arnold Elementary last year after having taught for 32 years.
His first degree was a bachelor’s in family and child development from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his bachelor’s in education and master’s in curriculum development from K-State came later.
“I did go to school at K-State, so I do like to claim it as my alma mater,” Hendricks said. “But I can say, ‘Go Big Red’ quietly in the hallways. My dad was never impressed with three degrees anyway. He said, ‘Thermometers have degrees, and you know what doctors do with those.’”
On a typical morning, Hendricks gets to the school at about 7:45 a.m. and grades papers until kids start to arrive at school. He gets his classroom ready, where a mish-mash of posters and objects — some of them from his students — adorn the walls and counters. They’re artifacts Hendricks has picked up from a 30-year teaching career. A box of ant lions is the latest addition from the class’s “lion hunting” trip.
After school, Hendricks has pulled driveway duty for years, guiding 400 kids to safety through the after-school traffic. During the winter sports season, Hendricks also coaches wrestling at Anthony Middle School.
Thirty years of teaching adds up to a lot of students, and Hendricks said it’s hard to go around town without seeing a former student. He’s had several students whose parents he also taught, as well as younger siblings of former students.
One of his former students is even a kindergarten teacher at the school, and Hendricks said he likes to tease her every now and then. And in the spring, he helped chaperone the high school prom, since his daughter is a junior on the prom committee.
“There were a lot of juniors and seniors I know from sports or from Marlatt, and it was fun to see all these people dressed up,” he said. “They asked me, ‘Mr. Hendricks, what are you doing here? I thought you were a fifth-grade teacher.’ Well yes, I am, but I was keeping an eye on them. I would have to ask them their names, since they were all dressed up and I couldn’t tell who they were.”
He regularly receives invitations to weddings, graduations and other events of that nature from former students, and he said that kids remember him because he had built a reputation as a tough teacher over the years.
“I had two rules in my class: listen and obey,” Hendricks said. “It’s not because I’m the all-knowing authority, it’s just because you need to be able to listen and obey and be able to pay attention and hear what the directions are. Some of the kids would tell me that I was always really tough on them, and thank you.”
But alongside the rules, Hendricks said he’s always tried to have fun with his students.
“I do puns, and I sing to the kids,” Hendricks said, singing a short line about tests. “The kids roll their eyes and tell me not to sing, but they remember things like that.”
After one year of teaching fifth grade, Hendricks will be back teaching sixth grade next year.
“It was a challenge for me to go down and teach fifth grade since I was at sixth for so long,” Hendricks said. “It was a challenge to get them to mature, since they were pretty much big fourth-graders. They were very immature at the start, but they’ve done a fantastic job of maturing through the year. Was it due to me? Hopefully a little bit. Hopefully I helped them to love learning.”
Reflecting on his teaching tenure, he said that the best part of his job was working alongside phenomenal teachers, and the most important thing he taught was how to learn.
“I love the fact that I was able to touch lives,” Hendricks said. “There’s so much information out there, I can’t teach the kids everything they need to know. But I can teach them how to learn and how to find the information. I can teach them how to love going out and looking and trying to figure things out.”
A love of learning is something Hendricks himself has embraced every day these past 30 years, he said. Much of the learning he’s done lately is from his coworkers and other role model teachers he’s picked up over years.
“I know I’m not the best teacher out there, but I have so many role models I try to emulate,” he said. “I’m still learning myself. I want kids to understand you can learn things all the time.”