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Bill Strachan: Forty years and counting in the classroom

For many, turning the big 4-0 is a milestone. But for Bill Strachan, this milestone takes on a whole different meaning.

That’s because he didn’t recently turn 40 but instead, that’s how long he’s been teaching, with nearly that entire time at Boulder City High School, which happens to be his alma mater. In fact, he was valedictorian for the class of 1978.

“I think it was an awesome time but not everyone was a fan of the ’70s,” he said of his high school days. “There was a great sense of community. I think the school was still the center of the town. We still had plays in the auditorium from the community. The Boy Scouts were still big. Our sports were some of the best times we’ve had athletically at the school. I just remember from a young age wanting to get there – to be a student at Boulder City High School.”

Unlike most kids his age who had no clue of what they wanted to be when they grew up, that wasn’t the case for Strachan. At 15 he said, that’s when it hit him that teaching was something he wanted to do. And it was thanks to one person, his math teacher, Jim Nelson.

“A lot of days I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this guy is really good and loves what he’s doing,’” he said. “At that time, I was starting to do some coaching with the recreation department and I pretty much decided that I want to teach math and coach baseball at Boulder City High School and was able to make that happen. And, it’s all because of Jim Nelson.”

As for why he chose math, Strachan said it’s pretty simple, he was always good at it thanks to having a mind that works well when it comes to mathematics. As for teaching, he again praised Nelson’s approach, saying he still uses a lot of the techniques he learned 45 years ago to this day.

Nelson retired a year or two before Strachan started at the school but he had several opportunities to pass along to Nelson what he meant to him.

“I spent an awful lot of Sunday breakfasts at the Coffee Cup with Jim and Sally Nelson,” he said. “We’d talk shop and he’d share some ideas. I picked his brain for as long as I could. He had a strong effect on my life. He was a good man.”

Strachan began at BCHS at the beginning of the 1984-85 school year after spending his first two years of teaching at the former Vo-Tech in Henderson. He said a lot has changed with teaching in the last four decades, with technology being the biggest difference, which he said has benefited both teachers and students.

BCHS has been a family affair for Strachan. Not only did he graduate from BCHS but while there met Renita, who would later become his wife. She’s also a familiar face to many, having worked at the Boulder Dam Credit Union for 30 years. They had two children, Tony and Andrea, both of whom were fellow Eagles. In fact, he had both as students in his classroom.

“I loved it. It was great getting to teach my kids. They might not say the same because I may have been a little tough on them,” he said, laughing. “I know I thoroughly enjoyed it. Tony taught here for a few years, which was cool. He even coached some baseball with me as one of my assistants. That was awesome.”

While he has taught several second-generation students, he said he knows where he will be drawing the line.

“We had a recent open house and I bet I had 15 people who came though saying hi and that I had taught them and now their kids,” he said. “That’s been happening for quite some time. But I’ve always said that I’m turning my keys in and walking out if they say ‘you taught my grandma or grandpa.’ But I do think it’s great.”

When asked how many students he thought he’s taught over the years, appropriately enough, Strachan grabbed his calculator. The final tally, roughly 5,000.

“I think that’s a pretty neat number,” he said. “That’s almost intimidating. I’d like to think I had a positive effect on most of them.”

As to what keeps him going year after year, he said there’s really nothing else he’s good at and doesn’t have many hobbies. He and his wife travel a lot but they do that in the summers, which has included Alaska, numerous cruises, the Mediterranean, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

“I’ve lived in one place but I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a few places,” he said.

While he’s been teaching at BCHS for the last 38 years, in 2008 he retired but chose to continue teaching. Since he technically was a new teacher, he had to again go through the hiring process.

As for his future in the classroom, Strachan said he wasn’t sure. He knows he doesn’t want to sit around the house and feels he still has lots to offer the students of BCHS. For now, however, he’s taking it one year at a time.

“At the end of every summer I’m bored out of my mind,” he said. “I’ve traveled and now I’m sitting around. I think I’m still pretty good at this, so I want to keep doing it.”

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