More Than Just A Syllabus


Photo by Lauren Patrick

Snyder teaches students over zoom from his classroom

Typically, students are only able to see one side of a teacher, the side that assigns homework that goes along with the lesson taught earlier that day. What if, however, the teacher has lived a life full of excitement? Could it be that teachers have families, play games, and even (gasp!) go outside? It’s almost like they’re human people. For NHS science teacher Charles Snyder, this happens to be the truth.

Naturally, Snyder can’t fathom students’ lack of understanding that teachers are, in fact, people and have lives outside of classroom walls.

“What, you mean they don’t just put us in a cabinet at night?” Snyder said. “I see my students outside of school, and I wouldn’t think it’d be shocking to them. It’s never shocking to me.”

Snyder’s coworker, NHS science teacher John Nowicki, shares in the sentiment that teachers are more than products of the school.

“It’s important for us to be seen as people, not robots or ogres, but I feel that we need to separate ourselves from our jobs as well,” Nowicki said.

While it’s true, teachers like Snyder aren’t just created in a factory and sent straight to the classroom, sometimes, as in Snyder’s case, the road to a teaching license can zig-zag quite a bit.

“When I was in high school, science wasn’t a big deal to me, and I didn’t think I was going to college. I went into the army, and I became a chemical and nuclear weapons specialist, so I worked with a lot of chemists and physicists,” Snyder said.

Throughout his experience in the army, Snyder took some impactful moments home with him, but, miraculously, left with barely a scratch.

“Other than a big bruise, I was uninjured,” Snyder said. To his surprise, Snyder had found himself on day pushed to the ground by a tank. “I was right under the middle of the tank. Obviously, it would have killed me if it had actually put the tracks over me, but it was dark , and the driver couldn’t see me, and he just ran me over.”

After these such experiences, Snyder can share one valuable piece of advice.

“Don’t walk in front of tanks. Don’t walk around in fields at night.”

Given Snyder’s crazy past, some students have whispered about a legend that he was once struck by lightning. As interesting as the story is, Snyder says it is merely a rumor.

“I used to work in an analytical pharmaceutical lab, and I was just resetting the breakers on an analyzer,” Snyder said. Snyder was working with 480 volts of electricity on the breaker, four times the normal amount, when he was electrocuted.

“When it happened, it just threw me down, threw me across the room, and knocked me out. No lightning involved, though,” he says.

Through all that Snyder has seen and done, he still finds enrichment in his life as a teacher.

“After the army, I worked as a chemist in a pharmaceutical lab. Very boring, you had to shower and
sit there all day, it’s just horrible work,” Snyder said. “I did tutoring on the side after work, and got my teaching license, and there’s nothing boring about teaching. There’s always something new.”

From engineering chemical weapons to simply spending time with family, Snyder considers a few moments in his life to be particularly special.

“Obviously I’ve gotten married and had three kids. Most of the army was very memorable. I spent a few months backpacking around Europe, that was a big one… I’m learning the bass guitar, which is cool,” Snyder said.

Snyder would consider his travels a particularly defining part of what shapes him as a person.

“My family, we really like traveling a lot, taking kids to France, Italy, everywhere out of the country. We should all take a gap year and travel,” Snyder said. “Go to Germany, just walk around, and you will be amazed.”

As a fellow teacher in the science department, Nowicki has heard many of Snyder’s incredible stories.

“The army stories from being stationed in Germany are my favorite,” Nowicki had said. “He used his GI bill to pay for college, and he then worked in industry for a few years,” Nowicki said. “He knows a thing or two about hard work and determination.”

Throughout his life, Snyder has kept one special value with him that has driven his ever-changing story.

“You can always do whatever you want,” he said. “You can always change and do something different. If you don’t like it, change. It’ll be ok.”