By Tirsea McNeal, I-O Reporter
Teaching is an opportunity according to Erik Gustafson. He said he will miss two things, “The opportunity to work with young people and improve their chances of success in college, and waking up every morning and looking forward to going to work.”
After 29 years of teaching, Gustafson is leaving the classroom, moving, literally. Gustafson has taken another opportunity and will be teaching in another state. He has worked hard at CHS. According to Principal Ken Larson, “Mr. Gus will work as hard on his last day of his career as he did his first day of teaching.”
Gustafson graduated from Conrad High School in 1975. He then went on to the University of Montana and graduated from the UofM–Missoula in 1984.
Gustafson said, “I was influenced by the many teachers who mentored me, including Tommi Jo Russell/Orcutt, Bert Engler, Dick Meier, Jim Stuart, Larry Boettcher, Margaret Graham and Chuck Powers.”
He said he decided to be a teacher on July 17, 1978, at 2:09 p.m. He was quite specific about the date.
Larson said, “Mr. Gustafson has dedicated his life to preparing young people for a strong mathematical background for their college education. Anyone who has been in education for 29 years truly believes preparing young people for life beyond school is a Master Teacher.”
The dedication to teaching has shown in his teaching style. He has a unique method that works. Larson added, “A great way Mr. Gus teaches students is to work through a problem and let them make a mistake. He recognized the mistake but works the equation out to the end. When it doesn’t work out he works through the problem with the students making any changes they want to make whether they are right or wrong. Eventually the class comes to the correct conclusion realizing all the mistakes they made. It is awesome to watch.”
Gustafson is a persistent teacher when it comes to his students. Larson commented, “Mr. Gustafson prepares his student for college. Those who take the upper level Math courses know they will go off to college prepared.”
The community knows him for his personality as Erik “Fingers” Ray. Larson added, “Anyone who has had Mr. Gus as a teacher then sees him playing at a local watering hole has seen two different people. Mr. Gus loves teaching and it can be seen every day in the classroom. Erik “Fingers” Ray loves playing music for people and it can be seen when he is playing. The lucky people are those who have seen both of these people and had the opportunity to get to know them.”
He has built up a rapport with his students. Larson said, “Students come back to visit CHS all the time. Most of them stop by and see Mr. Gus. He has shown them a different view of life than they may have seen anywhere else and they appreciate that.”
He genuinely cares about the students at CHS and they will sorely miss him.
“Mr. Gus works with the Close Up Coffee kids three mornings a week before school. He entertains students and customers playing the mandolin. It’s a pretty lively area each morning. Mr. Gus is a big advocate of the students who are victims. He works to get to know them and looks out for them. One day we were discussing a student who was being bullied in the halls. Mr. Gus came to me later that day wanting more information so he could help the kids.”
After 29 years, the school district wishes Gustafson well and knows he will be of service no matter where he goes.
When asked if he had a special moment or event in his teaching days Gustafson said, “Every day was a total gasser, man.”