TOWNSEND — When Bill Pothier administered one of his last final exams as a North Middlesex Regional High School teacher, there were no number 2 pencils. There were no blue books, no worried faces, no frantic scribbling.
Pothier gives final exams much the way he teaches. He listens to students, asks them probing questions, encourages them to defend their own opinions. The exam takes the form of a 45-minute class discussion, with students reflecting on the most important things they learned throughout the semester.
“I have a teaching style where I want students to stand and be recognized and confident and know that their words are important, they have value, they have power, we’ve got to use them carefully, but you certainly have to have done your homework on whatever it is you want to talk about,” Pothier said.
June 20 was Pothier’s last day as a teacher after 30 years in the North Middlesex Regional School District.
After teaching science at Hawthorne Brook for 15 years, he switched to the high school. While at NMRHS, he has served as an assistant principal and chairman of the science department, but returned to a full teaching load because that is what he enjoyed best.
“I really wanted to do my last few years what I got into the profession to do, and that’s work with kids,” he said.
Now he teaches three elective courses that he created himself — science of natural disasters, astroscience and astroscience 2.
His interest in science stems from a Carl Sagan book his father bought him to read during an illness as a high school student.
“I said there’s so much out there that can be understood if you just study it and get an education. And so from that point on, I simply wanted to know more,” he said.
Pothier lives in West Townsend with his wife, Jan Pothier, a longtime NMRSD English teacher who retired last year. They have one daughter who is now a teacher herself, and according to Pothier, a better teacher than he’s ever been.
He said he thinks he has succeeded in being a teacher who helps students to grow as students and as people.
“As long as you’re reasonable with your expectations, if you set high standards kids will respond, and it feels really good to see kids grow up in your midst. And then you know you’ve made them stronger before they leave. That’s what I remember from my very best teachers and that’s just the kind of teacher I wanted to be,” he said.
Many of his students said they appreciated his teaching style, which taught them more than reading textbooks and taking multiple choice tests ever could have.
“I feel like he respects us a lot more than most teachers do,” said science of natural disasters student Becky Fournier. “I’m a junior and a lot of teachers treat us like freshmen, but he treats us like we’re mature and I think that made me more mature. I’m not expecting the easy way out.”
Freshman Matt Landino said Pothier’s teaching style was unique.
“Most teachers teach you what to think. He teaches us how to think, and I respect that,” Landino said.
Pothier said he would miss working with his colleagues, who work tirelessly to help students succeed.
“When I entered this school district, I just recognized there were a whole bunch of people that were committed to making kids as strong and as confident as they could be,” he said. “It’s always been a challenging, rigorous district.”
While he plans to spend much of his free time after retirement with his grandson, he also hopes to come back as a guest speaker in science classes or volunteer as a tutor for the school district.
He said the thing he will miss most is his day-to-day interactions with students, and seeing their growth from a freshman year science course to graduation day.
“I’m going to miss getting another generation of students not just interested in science, because honestly, it goes way beyond that. I just tell them I want to help you become the person you’re meant to be,” he said.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.