If you came into gym class at the regional high school looking for Jay Schofield, it might take a minute to find him. He's not out in the center of the floor with the other two gym teachers.
No, he's the guy sitting in the circle with some 40 ninth and tenth graders, reaching for his toes and talking to the teenagers on either side. To them, he is Scho, and the talking is easy.
It's the day after the San Diego school shooting, and one of the boys says, "Scho, it's scary that kid got a hold of all those guns."
"The whole thing is, don't pick on people," says Mr. Schofield. "Nobody deserves to be picked on."
At 59, Mr. Schofield is not anyone's idea of hip. Balding and rounding out his 32nd and final year of teaching, he's still got that connection with the kids.
"Rob," he says to one of the boys before the first push-up, "you're all right."
The tenth-grader smiles. "When they say Scho, I say good egg."
It lasts a mere moment in a morning gym class warm-up, but to Mr. Schofield, those little chats form the backbone of his teaching and coaching career.
"Kids want to have conversations with adults," he says. "They ask me questions about drugs and about sex, and I try to be humble in answering. At times, I'm viewed as old-fashioned. I ask kids questions, and they respond and feel comfortable giving their answers. I've always been fearful of the day when I can't relate to high school kids."
The trick is finding what he calls the "conversational hook" with teenagers. Their experiences are limited, and so Mr. Schofield has tried to broaden his own so that he can engage more kids. He sings in a barbershop quartet, and that helps him talk to the students who are performers. Mr. Schofield also likes fishing, and that gives him common ground with the ones who fish.
But avocations aside, this teacher is at heart a philosopher, ever ready to dole out bits of wisdom or tips for the day. Around his neck, he wears a medallion inscribed with an aphorism - "This too shall pass."
It's a simple philosophy that Mr. Schofield has willingly shared with his students and his athletes during a tenure of coaching that lasted well over 35 seasons.
"No matter what you're going through, be it good or bad, it's going to come to an end," he says. "I sat with last year's hockey kids after the state championships and said, are you enjoying this? ‘Yeah, it's the best,' they said. But I said, remember there's going to be a time when bad things are going to happen to you, and you'll have to bear the good things in mind."
At the root of all these messages is a belief in the concept of change. Things can change, people can change, and along the way, teachers can make a difference. Mr. Schofield remembers his own transformation when he was a high school student, growing up on the Cape.
"My high school phys-ed teacher was a great guy, and I said, gee, this is a nice thing to do," he recalls. "I wanted to go to college, but they said you don't have the prerequisites, not like the kids with the slide rules. But I said sign me up for all these tough courses.
"I walked into physics class my senior year, and the teacher said, ‘Mr. Schofield, you're in the wrong room.' I was viewed as a jock, but I got through all my classes and ended up president of my class. I just really turned around. All along, I never really wanted to be painted into a corner of the stereotypical jock. I've always sought avenues out of that so I could be a more effective teacher."
Indeed, Mr. Schofield could well be called a Renaissance man. Besides the sideline as a vocalist in a quartet, this old jock has taken up research into the history of Island basketball, written a textbook on offensive strategy in the game and begun a new career as a biographer with his business called Vineyard Memoirs. Retirement for Mr. Schofield will not be about loafing around the house or playing golf every day. He can't wait to interview more people and to start writing more books.
It's all about balance, says Mr. Schofield. That's the essence of the inscription written on the other side of his medallion. He strives to keep that balance between work and play, between physical and intellectual pursuits and most definitely between seriousness and humor.
One of the things that draws kids to this teacher is his sense of humor. In the boys' locker room this week, after marking the attendance roll, Mr. Schofield waits for them to dress for class and finds ample time to joke with them - in low-key, locker room style.
"Put your arms down," he says to one boy reaching his hands up over the doorway. "Your pits are killing me."
But there's also a serious side to Mr. Schofield, and he is not hesitant to show it. "Kids know when you're serious and when you're not, but you have to pick your hill to die on," he says.
In his coaching career, Mr. Schofield twice landed in court when parents objected to his decisions to suspend players for breaking a rule. "I took a stand on things, and at times I was unpopular," he says. "But you've got to do what's right and not what's popular." In both court cases, he was vindicated.
That experience gives him a special perspective on the current year in high school sports rife with controversy and concerns over both players' and coaches' behavior. Without going into specifics, Mr. Schofield zeroes in on the pitfalls of placing too much pressure on winning.
"Winning is only important in all-out war and in major surgery," he says. "People put a real emphasis on winning rather than the experience of playing. I tried not to be a coach who berated or yelled at his players. I'm not a screaming type of person."
Sportsmanship, he believes, is the big issue, and as a coach, he made sure all his players shook hands with the other team after a game. "You can't run away from shaking hands in a moment of frustration or anger," he says. "To lose and shake a hand is so difficult, but you've got to do it."
And on the topic of contracts stipulating a code of behavior for student athletes, Mr. Schofield is sympathetic, likening the passage through adolescence to a drive through a bad neighborhood. It's tough, and you can use all the help you can get.
"Kids are at a fork in the road. One step can send them in the wrong direction," he says. "The foundation for kids' behavior is ‘please notice me.' "
For Mr. Schofield, teachers, coaches and parents need to help kids find positive things for which they are noticed. Contracts, he says, set a standard. "It's not that famous word, ‘whatever,'" he says. "You can't be afraid of public opinion."
Still, Mr. Schofield has a hard time finding anything to complain about when it comes to kids. He wishes they didn't sit in front of the television or computer screen for as many hours a day as many of them do. They become receptors, not thinkers, he says.
But 32 years after embarking on his teaching career, he still likes to go to work simply to be around the kids. "They're just awesome. They're fun to be with. They keep you young," he says.