The Amazing People of Wellsprings
A year long series
This newsletter's focus:
Paul Schroder, teacher at Wellsprings since 2001.
Interviewed by Chris Meeker (parent at school).
Paul Schroder has a B.A. in History and Political Science, a M.A. in Secondary Social Studies, and a law degree (known as a J.D.). While practicing law, he worked as a prosecutor as well as a workers' compensation attorney. He later got an Oregon teaching license, and has taught many classes in the realms of World Geography and History. He also taught test preparation courses for Kaplan. Paul has been a Wellsprings teacher since the fall of 2001.
It’s not every day that you meet a high school teacher who was previously practicing law. Which gave me an idea on how to have some fun. Dear reader, can you spot the fourteen words/phrases in the next paragraph that are often used by attorneys as I tell some of Paul’s history (answers at the end of the article)?
So, why did Paul want a fresh start? Why this conviction to change careers? What was the appeal of teaching? Why would he go on this journey of discovery? Well, in his opinion, it was a moot point that all of the evidence pointed to undue hardship if he continued to practice law. The verdict was in: A voluntary transfer was needed if he was to reverse the damage he was incurring. Paul’s main complaint was that his legal jobs didn’t have meaning and that he witnessed a lot of stress that was manufactured. In brief, Paul knew he had to make a change to have a fulfilling life.
Thankfully for him, and for us, he chose teaching at Wellsprings.
Paul's first teaching job was in a Virginia public school when he was going to school for his Masters Degree. Like in many public schools, students were taught in a traditional way and when Paul first came to Wellsprings that is how he taught. He quickly found out, however, that Wellsprings students didn’t want to be taught this way.
In addition to learning how to teach differently than he had just been taught, Paul discovered that he really liked having the freedom to get to know the students and help them develop not only academically but also socially, emotionally, and physically. In short, helping them become well rounded individuals. He loves the “teachable moments” which happen a lot at Wellsprings because the students aren’t afraid to ask questions. "What is the student interested in learning and how can I meet them there?," he often asks himself.
Paul enjoys connecting with the students as fellow human beings and tells a story about music as an example. “I didn’t play guitar when I started working here. While in Eugene I was hanging out with friends who played music and I learned how to play guitar. A year or two later I saw a student pick up a guitar and hold it the wrong way. And I realized I don’t know much about guitar yet but at least I could help him learn how to hold it in a comfortable way. And then I parlayed it into a guitar class and have had dozens of students throughout the years that might otherwise never in their lives have picked up a guitar. In a traditional music class I would need certain credentials to teach and have to teach music theory which would discourage many students from participating. But here I can encourage students to engage with a musical instrument in a way that no one ever encouraged me to do. My theory with the students is to not get in their way and to encourage them. At Wellsprings I have the freedom to make these judgment calls. And in this way, I can meet the students in ways that most of us weren’t.”
What else does Paul like about Wellsprings? He appreciates that the school encourages him, holds him to high standards, and supports him. When he does make a mistake or has a less-than-easy interaction with a student, rather than saying why he’s right, he’s learned to say, “Here’s where I’m wrong.” He says that, “To make a mistake, recognize and apologize for it, and then move forward, is part of me doing my job better.”
Paul also likes the balance at Wellsprings of respecting the individual and speaking your mind, but doing it in a way that doesn’t cause pain or suffering. He said it’s hard to learn but is a wonderful approach. In addition, he enjoys teaching critical thinking and watching a student make a breakthrough.
And in closing, Paul, said, “It’s a real privilege to get to know students in a genuine way. My life is richer for knowing them. I enjoy the fresh perspectives of new students and I enjoy when the students who’ve graduated, come back to visit. I didn’t think I would be at Wellsprings this many years when I first started. And I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Thank you, Paul, for all your years of teaching and caring. And for being a part of our Wellsprings community!
*Here are the fourteen words/phrases used by attorneys that were included in the paragraph introducing Paul: Fresh start, conviction, appeal, discovery, opinion, moot, evidence, undue hardship, verdict, voluntary transfer, reverse, damage, complaint, brief.