In his final year of work, this high school ceramics teacher finds a way to inspire

Old teachers learn new tricks to stay current with the times. The best ones make it work.

Take Clint Bodene.

He is in his 31st year in the Sacramento City Unified School District, credentialed to teach math, chemistry, life science and art. He is the last remaining charter faculty member at Rosemont High School, which opened in 2003. Bodene especially enjoys what students gain from fine arts and ceramics, his course load as he concludes his career this academic year.

Bodene isn’t bounding into retirement because the coronavirus pandemic has thrown education for a loop since March. He said he planned years ago to make 2020-2021 his final one in education. But Bodene said he might have considered exiting a year early if his “victory lap” would include potholes in the form of COVID-19.

”When I found out we’d do distance learning last March and then this fall, I was angry,” Bodene said. “This isn’t what teachers signed up for. This was supposed to be my victory lap. I had my curriculum down. I was on top of my game, running a smooth show. I’ve gotten used to it.”

At 61, Bodene intends to spend more time with his wife Cathie in their hobby of world travel. It makes sense.

Bodene embraces adventure beyond connecting with kids of all walks. He hitchhiked from his native Michigan to the West Coast and wound up attending Sacramento State in the fall of 1980, appreciating the $400 tuition costs. Nine years later, Bodene took a knee in Rome with the backdrop of the Colosseum to propose to Cathie (she had to say yes, right?).

Education has changed in Bodene’s tenure, be it technology or the concern and uncertainty of COVID-19, leading to distance learning. He said he had to adapt and improvise. It started on the first day this school year, when Bodene handed out 12-pound bags of clay and a bag of sculpting tools to students who drove by to collect the goods, a scene unlike any in his previous 30 years of teaching.

One doesn’t get into this line of work to be alone in a classroom and teach and inspire from afar.

“I had to recreate the curriculum,” Bodene said. “I was watching videos of ceramics and arts, and I thought, ‘Dammit! That’s what I’ve got to do.’ Can’t just throw a bunch of content at kids and call it a day.”

Bodene added, “I came full circle. I can still teach and produce a good product. It’ll take some work, but we can do it.”

With more than 30 students per art class, Bodene is doing it. But how does one showcase art and ceramics without students having a chance to see it up close and personal? Find a way.

”What I would tell teachers is to try and be real with students, empathize with them,” Bodene said. “Distance learning is not a great situation. We worry about our students. Do the best you can. It’s a learning experience for all of us.”

Sean Bill understands this.

He met Bodene two years ago while substitute teaching on the Rosemont campus. They struck up a conversation, Bill intrigued with ceramics as a longtime art enthusiast and photographer, and they remained in contact.

Bill, 43, is now student teaching under Bodene, humming through a one-year accelerated teaching program at Sacramento State. Teaching is his second career.

“Mr. Bodene is a born teacher who enjoys his work,” Bill said. “He’s frustrated that he doesn’t have a personal connection with students in class like he had his first 30 years, but he’s adaptable. He’s accepted what’s going on.”

Not all have, Bill said.

“I have a teacher friend who was three years away from retirement and he quit,” Bill said. “He just didn’t want to do Zoom teaching. Clint sticking it out says something about him.”

Out in the field with Zoom

On Oct. 5, Bodene and Bill held a Zoom class session in downtown Sacramento.

Holding a laptop or placing it on a stand, the teachers took students along for a journey of art displayed in front of Golden 1 Center. The coronavirus prevented the teachers from taking students with them, so they brought the sights and sounds to them.

Bodene wore a white T-shirt with a silhouette of a man pointing to the word, “ART.” Bodene and Bill are considering a class tour at the Crocker Art Museum, also through Zoom. Schools in the Sac City Unified School District and all of those in Sacramento County have not returned to on-campus learning.

The SCUSD and other local districts have union representing teachers that urge county school leaders to have campuses remain closed until the start of the spring semester, which starts in January.

”Teachers can do Zoom from home or from class, so we can do it anywhere,” Bodene said. “Take it to the streets and showcase the wonderful array of art that we have in the city. The biggest challenge at the moment is getting the technology right. We’re solving it, piece by piece.”

‘I do this better than anyone’

Bodene and Bill agree about what makes ceramics uniquely fun for any age.

“Clay is such an amazing medium,” Bill said. “It brings you back to when you were a child, playing in the dirt. It grounds you. You’re making something that is made of dirt, from eroded rock that settles in the valleys, and you’re turning that clay back into rock again. It’s so great to build art, to mold anything you want.”

Bodene and some teaching peers in the district share the thought “the labor strife we’re experiencing right now is stressful.” He exchanged emails regularly early this fall with students and parents as everyone tried to navigate the technology needed to get online and into Zoom, in addition to wondering when students would return and if it was wise to do so.

Bodene said distance learning weighs on everyone. Teachers stick with it for their students.

”The Rosemont kids inspire me to keep doing this,” Bodene said. “They’re such nice kids, street smart, yet empathetic to their fellow students and the teachers. I love these kids. They’re blue-collar. Their school time is super important to me.”

Bodene said he has not lost his purpose of the profession, though any teacher feels the loss of a disconnect with students.

“I do this better than anyone,” Bodene said of teaching, with a laugh. “I’ll match our ceramics program with any in the area or in the country.”

All of this from a man who thought he would attend medical school after a Sac State course load heavy on chemistry and science. He stuck to what he learned in Michigan growing up.

Bodene’s father, Don Bodene, taught him to use his mind and hands growing up in Michigan. He pondered this when he hitchhiked to California 40 years ago, climbing into any vehicle that stopped: semi trucks, sedans, a Volkswagen bus that burned more oil than gasoline.

”Nobody hitchhikes any more,” Bodene said with a laugh. “My father taught me to to build things, to fix things, how to fundamentally solve problems. I teach my students to build incredibly beautiful things with art and clay, to use their brains and their hands.

“Some of my students have never seen snow and the vast majority of them have never touched clay. By the end of the year, they’re producing high-quality ceramic work. It can be so rewarding.”

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