By Rosalyn Kutsch
Greece, Germany, Sudan, Egypt, Guatemala, Ecuador… the list of countries in which Bozeman High School Spanish teacher, Steve Schwab, has travelled goes on and on.
Although teaching has always been a passion of his (he got his start teaching in St. Ignatius, MT, later at a private school in Ecuador, then taught refugees from the Vietnam War and at an outdoor school in Portland) travel is where Schwab found his love of foreign languages. He would often take off for a few months between teaching jobs and find work in other countries. He mentions one time in which he bought a one-way ticket and left for Europe with $600 in his pocket. On that trip he ended up working six months in Greece and eventually found a job in Germany. On these travels he would pick up a phrase book and attempt to learn at least the basics of the language.
“I discovered I had a proclivity for learning foreign languages,” he says. “I figured with the art and culture involved that it would be fun to teach a foreign language.”
It was after extensive travel in Latin and South America that he became certified in teaching Spanish. Although most at BHS know Schwab as one of the language teachers, he actually started at the head track coach. Schwab coached track here for 10 years and later was hired as a Spanish and English teacher.
Students clamor to get into Schwab’s Spanish class every year because of the easygoing and comfortable atmosphere he creates. According to Schwab, that laid-back environment is intentional.
“I try to create a relaxed atmosphere,” says Schwab, adding that this helps students to feel more comfortable when they might make mistakes learning a language.
“Often students don’t want to sound stupid when speaking a foreign language. I try to prepare them for a future of travel where it’s okay if something comes out a little wrong. People are just glad you’re trying!” he says.
After 17 years at BHS, Schwab has made the decision to retire at the end of this year, a decision he says, “will require a handkerchief at the ready.”
“I’m excited, but it will be a sad goodbye. I know that after 30 years of teaching it will be a new chapter for me.”
As some might guess, travel is definitely on the retirement itinerary; this time however, Schwab wants to do it a little differently.
“I have had this idea for a while of finding a place in Mexico where my wife and I could go to every year for a month or so. We’d have a place to stay and get to know the people, maybe have a greater sense of community rather than the big journey through South America–we’ve done that thing,” he says.
Also in his plans is a lot of outdoor recreation in the place he calls paradise–Bozeman, Montana. As he describes the garage full of bikes and skis and backpacks, his eyes light up.
“I’m gonna get to be the guy that’s at the trailhead on a Wednesday, not Saturday or Sunday like those poor folks that have to work,” he laughs.
Also an avid musician and songwriter, Schwab intends to focus on his music in retirement.
Though he cherishes Bozeman for its recreation, he acknowledges that it’s not the most diverse place on the planet. He encourages his students to seek experience outside of our town.
“My advice would be to try to see the world. And if not, then just the world beyond our community,” he says, adding, “It’s important to be more open-minded about people and different cities. Go to Seattle, to the East Coast, its a different mentality in those places.”
As Schwab reflects on his time at BHS, he says he is most proud of his relationships with his students.
“I had a successful career. Part of it was just me being real with my students, I was excited for kids when they they did well. And I was there for kids when things were not going well.”
This is a notion that many of Schwab’s students know well. Jacob Birchly, a senior at BHS had Schwab for two years.
“He is one of my favorite teachers. He made Spanish really enjoyable and I know students are really gonna miss him! I’m lucky I was able to have him,” he says.
As expected with someone who seizes every adventure and opportunity in life to the best of his ability, Schwab has no regrets from his career in teaching.
“I will leave without feeling like there is something I could have done better. I’m excited for what’s next,” Schwab said.
Farewell Mr. Schwab
By Rosalyn Kutsch