When Northwest High School teacher Jeff Paige started teaching 39 years ago, it was not anywhere near what it is like today.
As he taught in his classroom last Thursday morning, Paige was dressed in a white polo and black pants — the latter of which he would have never worn when he first started teaching due to chalk from the chalkboard flying everywhere. His classroom doesn’t even have desks, nor do his students have textbooks as class materials are all online on students’ Chromebooks.
In fact, he doesn’t even teach the same classes he did 39 years ago.
“I am doing different things all the time,” Paige said. “Next year, I am going to be teaching a different class in robotics. It is not like I have been doing the same thing for 40 years. If I had been stuck in the same class for 40 years, I may have retired already. I have moved around a lot and have taught different things. I am still having fun, so I might as well keep doing it.”
In his 21st year of teaching at Northwest, he currently teaches science, technology, engineering and math classes as part of Project Lead the Way, which is a national curriculum. He teaches principles of engineering, civil engineering and architecture, engineering design and development, and computer science as part of Project Lead the Way.
Paige also teaches a principles of technology class and a freshman exploring technology class, which are not part of Project Lead the Way.
He said Project Lead the Way is unique not only to Northwest, but Central Nebraska as well.
“We have the high school component here, but there is also a middle school and an elementary (component),” he said. “With Northwest the way it is, we have four different ones, so it would be cost-prohibitive to do that at every school.”
In his engineering design and development class, Paige said, students develop a project that could possibly be patented at the end of the school year. Among this year’s projects are a self-cooling water bottle and cardboard furniture.
He said he aims to teach his students real-world experiences. In his civil engineering and architecture class, students are using a software called Revit to redesign an old library building. He said Revit is used in the industry.
In computer science principles, Paige said, his students learn to write computer code. The program is growing as there are four students enrolled in the class this year, but 20 are signed up to take it next school year. Northwest will also offer a new robotics class beginning next school year.
He said some of the things he tries to instill in his students are to show up on time, “do what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it,” and to do things the best they can. He also tries to teach them how to work well with others and solve problems.
Paige said his students have taught him that there are different ways to accomplish a task.
“I will tell students that if they find something, to tell me how they did it, especially with the Revit program since it is so expansive,” he said. “We could spend a year on that alone. The students are not afraid to jump in and try something. What’s the worst that could happen? If you lose it, you just start over.”
Principal Tim Krupicka said Northwest staff spend a lot of time developing the school’s Viking Culture and that Paige exemplifies what it is all about.
“With his enthusiasm, willingness to take on responsibilities and experiences, he provides that Viking culture,” he said. “His personality, by nature, is spontaneous; he is Mr. Spontaneous. I think his enthusiasm gets students in the mood to learn. In the nine years that I have known Mr. Paige, he is a person who, on the surface, is always having a good day. That comes across to the students very well. Therefore, that helps them have a good day.”
Paige said he is “high-energy and enthusiastic.” When he does parking lot duty, students tell him that it is “too early to be that fired up.”
“I get asked, ‘Do you drink coffee?’ I say, ‘No,’ and they wonder why I wake up like that every morning. It is a choice,” he said.
Krupicka said he is impressed with Paige’s ability to evolve and adapt.
“If we want to start a new class, he is always willing to get training and molds to his environment,” he said. “Mr. Paige probably has more class preparations than most teachers in a class D school do. I used to teach 7-12 social studies in a class D school and I had six preps. He has at least that many and is teaching in a large school. He is always willing to do what he can for not just Northwest High School students, but district students as well.”
Paige said even though he has taught for 40 years, he has no plans to retire any time soon.
“Had I stayed in Nebraska the whole time, I probably could have retired six or seven years ago, but I don’t know what I’d do,” he said. “I am still having fun and I still enjoy coming to work every day.”