Interview and Article by:
Jen Goss, VA (MTF 2010)
“Where to begin on Bob? Bob Smith (South Deerfield, MA; MTF 2001) is one of the most genuine human beings I’ve been privileged to call friend, colleague, and mentor. Bob cares for his students and athletes as both a teacher and a coach and brings that same nurturing spirit to the Museum programming he facilitates. I’ve never been with Bob when he didn’t make a Teacher Fellow feel valued and enriched. In fact, I’ve heard Bob say of the USHMM, ‘I don’t ever come here and not learn something new.’ After having known Bob for over a decade, I can say I feel the same way about him. He has made me see exhibits in a new light, challenged me by encouraging me to read books he has recommended, and has caused shifts in my pedagogy. I am a better teacher for having had the opportunities I have had to work alongside Bob,” shares Doug Wadley (IL, MTF 2002).
This statement shares the very essence of what makes Bob Smith a truly amazing MTF. Upon working with him, my first impression was that he was both quiet and thoughtful – when he spoke, you listened carefully because he always had a unique and important perspective to share. He addresses every educator with his calm nature and effective style – truly class in action – particularly with a range of participants bringing different perspectives At the end our first experience together, I not only gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from a world-class colleague but I also gained the friendship of an individual who brightens my life whenever we connect.
Bob’s teaching career began in 1977, the same year the very first Apple computer went on sale! Following his graduation from Wesleyan University and earning his education degree at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, Bob taught for a year at Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield, MA. He followed this a year later at an alternative program in Middletown, CT, before landing at Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield, MA where he taught eighth grade for 38 years. In addition to teaching, Bob coached middle school boys basketball for 28 years, for the past 38 years he has coached girls and boys cross country. Next spring will be Bob’s 39th season of coaching girls’ Track & Field. In his sports pursuits, he has coached many to state finals and championships and it is evident that he loves sharing these experiences with his student athletes. Each season, his social media posts beam with pride and it is evident to all how much he enjoys this aspect of his career.
In 2001, Bob was named a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow. When asked about the impact of the MTF program on him professionally, Bob responded, “There is no finer professional work that I have done than being an MTF. I have enjoyed the friendship and scholarship of many wonderful classroom teachers, and have been able to share my knowledge at conferences across the United States. To me, being an MTF carries a near sacred responsibility to share with students and teachers the importance of individual decisions —or lack thereof —in shaping our common humanity.” Bob has certainly lived this responsibility throughout his career, educating students both inside the walls of his classroom and in the world.
One of the things that stands out from his career is the many opportunities he has provided to students by expanding their horizons through travel. Bob has traveled throughout the world with students to sites of the Holocaust, allowing them to experience history through a new lens. Travel, both with students and his family, is a big part of Bob’s life. He shares, “I travel a great deal—often to the Netherlands, to the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany, Belgium, Iceland and anywhere the winds take me in the States.” Since retiring in 2016, Bob has had many more opportunities to see the world.
This past summer, Bob was part of the inaugural group of MTF Mentors (see article) and I can think of no better person to serve in that role. He shared that it was an outstanding opportunity to expand his network with even more like-minded teachers. Bob enjoyed sharing ideas, techniques and lessons that he hopes will impact future generations of students – something he feels every teacher should certainly do and something that he exemplifies so well. “Holocaust education remains critical in our society”, Bob says. “I believe that now more than ever, teaching about the Holocaust provides students with a wide world view. It tells them that it is ordinary men [and women] who commit heinous crimes against humanity, and ordinary people who can act to stop them.”
When Bob is not out changing the lives of students and teachers, he revels in his life as a farmer – a role he holds dear to his heart. Bob has an enormous garden where he grows fruits and vegetables not only for his family, but for friends as well. Sharing the items he grows gives him great satisfaction and the closest recipients are his family consisting of his wonderful wife and life partner, Mary Ellen, and their two grown sons. Bob proudly shares that, “Geoff is Sports Editor of the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA, and Nate is a licensed electrician with his own business.” Mary Ellen and Bob also count a cat, Gracie, and their beloved and beautiful Golden Retriever, Finn, among their family members.
In closing, I asked Bob to share some advice for MTFs who are closer to the beginning of their journeys. Bob says, “Their experience in the program will give them strength in their instruction, depth in their knowledge, and the courage to speak out against injustice. It will reaffirm in each that ‘the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’” Thank you, Bob, for sharing these important words!