Brad and Barb Nesbitt: For the love of teaching

Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Barb Nesbitt with some of her students (front) Sara, Marlene and Briana. (Back) Karen, Jackie, Abigail, Malga and Reina.

Alta-Aurelia Schools is losing two of its finest teachers this year - and they happen to be married.

Brad and Barb Nesbitt are leaving the district after this school year with a combined 56 years at the Alta Schools. It is crazy thinking of how many students' lives they touched through that many years.

Brad came to Alta in 1977, fresh out of college, hired to teach English in the upper level grades, Nesbitt also took on speech. The group had seven members at the time; for the last several years 60-65 percent of the high school population has participated in speech.

Brad Nesbitt and some of his senior students (front) Nehemiah Hase, Caleb Howe. (Back) Evan Laursen, Kate Carlson, Ardis Moncus, David Schmidt, Jayna Brechwald, Debbie Gregg, Allyson Zarr.

There are many reasons, he believes, that the numbers have increased. "Over the years, my students have realized that communication will follow them the rest of their lives - in their family life, in their jobs."

He is well aware of each of his students' strengths and helps bring them out as he helps in the selection of the material that will be performed in the large group and individual contests.

"I can find a place for any kid - if they don't like to speak, I put them in mime. There's room for anyone." And if they don't want to perform, he finds a place for them in "this family" by working behind the scenes.

"My motto is, 'If you're not having fun and not learning something, than, please, don't be involved.'" The number of those who drop out of the program are next to none.

While small schools seem to rate sports as the top priority extracurricular activity, Nesbitt is pleased to say the speech, music and coaches have a grand relationship. Without each other's cooperation, none of the activities would run as smoothly as they do. He is proud to say, "Ninety percent of the varsity line-up of any sport is in speech."

He has loved what he does and it shows.

When he was in school, he shared, he was "extremely shy." He had an English teacher that challenged him to become involved and it was then that he knew he wanted to give back what he learned from her and make a difference in the lives of young people.

Nesbitt could not find the separation between sports and other organizations so to keep involved, he wrote many pieces for the speech students to perform; he never did have the opportunity to perform himself but enjoyed seeing his work on stage.

He has written pieces for the Alta speech students for all 35 years.

Nesbitt has also directed 22 musicals at Alta High School and has been greatly involved in the restoration off Roxy Theatre.

He is very well known in the speech world and was honored with the National Federation State Speech, Theatre and Debate Award for Iowa (there are only 24 recipients of this award in the United States) and is the 50th member of the Iowa High School Speech Hall of Fame.

He also served as an Iowa High School Speech Association's District officer for two terms, contest manager for Large Group contest, All-State Committee member, and was been on the IHSSA Executive Committee for two terms as the Coach at Large representing all the coaches for the entire state of Iowa.

He has been asked to speak and present at the IHSSA Coaches Convention on many occasions and has received numerous local, state and national awards such as: Iowa Masonic Teacher of the Year in 2001, NFHS Outstanding Speech, Debate and Theatre Educator Award in 2007, and local Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year in 1998.

Becoming a teacher, he said, came when he was in seventh grade. He admitted he was not getting good grades and his English teacher at the time told him, "You're better than this - and you need to show the world." He knew at that point, if she could make a difference in a students' life, than so could he.

"I never ever second guessed my choice as a career. I remember (principal) Ron Mueller telling me, 'Be in the hallways and connect with those students that no one says hi to,' I've made that connection and care about all of the students, not just the ones that are out for speech."

The only thing that has changed in his classroom is the great use of technology; some have said that kids are different than they were back 35 years ago. He disagrees with that.

"Kids are kids. If you care, that's all it takes. It's the kids that makes me absolutely love my job."

While Barb Nesbitt has been at the Alta Schools for 21 years, here career began several years before that. Through the years she has taught Spanish, English, journalism, has helped with the school newspaper and the yearbook, had reading groups, directed middle school and high school plays and was a cheerleading sponsor; for the past 12 years she has been the ELL teacher for grades K-12.

Her first job was at Pocahontas where she had Brad's younger brother in class! It was Brad's mom who suggested to her that the new teacher get some guidance from her son, Brad, who was already directing plays at Alta! A blind date it was - and a successful one at that!

Barb also taught at Willow (now part of River Valley), Galva-Holstein and St. Mary's.

She enjoys the fact that she has had the opportunity to work with students of all ages.

"They are all fun in their own way," she said.

She, too, has always enjoyed her career and hopes when her students look back, they will remember her as "someone who cared."

She has had the task of helping students learn a strange new language and perfect that language; it is always fun to see when things "click" and they finally understand.

"I want them to all feel safe and comfortable in their new environment while providing a fun and relaxed atmosphere."

The Nesbitts will be leaving Alta and moving to West Des Moines early this summer.

Barb will locate another teaching job.

The couple has two sons - Nick and his wife Amy live in Grimes and Cody and his fiancee live in Sioux Falls.

The school district will miss their experience and dedication and the genuine caring that they have shared with their students everyday in their classrooms.