Teacher Follows In Father's Footsteps

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Just because both he and his father have been lifelong educators, Bill Bowling does not think that giving young people the gift of learning is an ability that springs naturally from his gene pool.

"I've just always felt comfortable in the classroom and felt like I could contribute something, like we all do when we're young teachers," said Bowling, the assistant principal at Rim Country Middle School.

The insinuation there is that, with some, the contributions begin to ebb over time. That certainly has not happened in the case of Mr. Bowling.

Born in Flagstaff 52 years ago, Bowling's family followed his father's teaching career all over Arizona from Greer to Phoenix, back to Flagstaff, then to Florence and Tuba City, where his Dad was a school administrator on the Navajo reservation, and on to Tombstone, where Bowling graduated from high school.

After returning to Flagstaff yet again, he attended Northern Arizona Unversity as a Spanish education major, graduated in 1971, and married his, Sandy, an elementary school teacher. Those events were followed by a Vietnam-era stint in the National Guard, which amounted to more traveling: basic training in South Carolina and military police school in Georgia.

Once Bowling's service debt was paid, he landed his first teaching job in the special education department of Buena High School in Sierra Vista. He eventually moved on to Flagstaff High School ... before his career took an unexpected, ungenetic twist in 1990: Bowling suddenly quit teaching to manage a Sizzler restaurant for about three-and-a-half years.

"At the time, we had gone through a strike, and the school board didn't have the best interests of the teachers or students at heart," he remembers. "A lot of us became disgruntled with education, so we got out."

Obviously, the career switch didn't take hold.

"I missed teaching immediately, I missed working with the kids, and I had been working about 70 hours a week at the Sizzler. The determining moment came one night when my wife handed me our first son, Ryan, when he was about 6 months old and he didn't know who I was. I thought, whoa. We're gonna change this.' So I went back to Flagstaff High, where I taught Spanish for the next six years."

Bowling moved from teaching to earning his administrative certificate, and becoming both the athletic director and assistant principal.

When he was offered the position of RCMS assistant principal in 1994, Bowling didn't have to think long about making one last move.

"I liked Payson immediately," he said of his first impression of the town. "The people were incredibly friendly. It was the first place I'd ever been where, at the grocery store, employees would ask if I'd found everything. I'd never experienced that before."

Today, as he looks forward to retiring in five years, Bowling reflects on how he would like to be remembered as an educator.

"I would hope that I am thought of as a caring person who was devoted to the students," he said. "I want people to know that I was there for the kids, and did what I could to make their lives better."

And that goes for the entire American education system, he adds.

"I think we're doing a good job in the classroom. Education is always under the gun right now; people think we're not doing anything, and they compare us with other countries but we are one of the very few countries that educate the masses. We deal with students who don't have the capability of learning to read all the way up to those who are in middle school but reading at college level and beyond.

"We deal with everybody, and ... we always try to get our kids on the college track."

Additionally, he said, American teachers are "devoted and dedicated and interested in their students and what they're learning. We do a lot of things academically and socially for our kids that society is not taking care of right now."

Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the best possible scenario, he said.

"Teachers aren't able to go into the classroom and teach. We have to be the doctors, we have to be the psychiatrist, the policeman ... and we don't have time to go in and just teach. Families or society are not taking care of the kids as far as those things go, and it all gets dumped on education. It has become the responsibility of education to train kids to be decent citizens."

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