A true scientist in the classroom, Hardin Valley Academy’s Mr. Rudy Furman is always experimenting with ways to improve student learning. He also doubles as one of the more intimidating figures on the sidelines as the football team’s offensive line coach. From the trenches of the football field to the science and technology labs, Coach Furman holds an expectation of excellence!
Adam: Say your name for me.
Rudy: Rudy Furman (fur man). Not to be confused with Fe-ur-man (Furhman). People try to add an H to my name all the time. There is no H, haha!
Adam: Where were you born?
Rudy: In Knoxville, Tennessee.
Adam: Which hospital?
Adam: What was your high school mascot?
Rudy: Fighting Irish.
Adam: Which college did you go to?
Rudy: I went to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Adam: What was your major?
Rudy: My Major was Secondary Education with a minor in Chemistry.
Adam: Which means you’re brilliant and intelligent!
Adam: What subjects are you teaching this semester?
Rudy: I teach a freshman algebra based physics class and a senior level honors academic research class. These are taught all semesters.
Adam: Which clubs do you sponsor? Which sports do you coach?
Rudy: I coach football. I don’t sponsor any clubs so to speak, but I do serve as the Dean of the STEM Academy. I’m tasked with making sure that we are providing appropriate STEM programming during Flight Time for our STEM students and opportunities for those students to participate in STEM activities outside of the school.
Adam: What is flight time?
Rudy: Flight Time is what used to be called Homeroom. We started out calling it Homeroom and we decided to rebrand it. Because we’re the Hawks, we decided to call it Flight Time.
Adam: Is that every day?
Rudy: Right in the middle of every day. It’s scheduled right between second and third period.
Adam: Why did you get into teaching?
Rudy: Growing up both my parents were teachers, so I grew up in and around schools. Going through college I was able to do some tutoring and really enjoyed helping people work through things that they thought they could never do.
Adam: Where did your parents teach?
Rudy: They taught at Tennessee School for the Deaf.
Adam: How many years did they teach?
Rudy: They both retired from teaching. They both taught at TSD for probably 30 years each. So they were fixtures there.
Adam: Are you still fluent in sign language?
Rudy: Oh yes. My mom is still alive and helping me to teach the kids sign language. I don’t get over to TSD very often, but I still interact with the deaf community quite a bit through my mom and her friends.
Adam: That’s wonderful!
Adam: How many years have you been teaching?
Rudy: This is year 17.
Adam: How many at the Academy?
Rudy: Since we opened, so 11 years at the Academy. I taught 2 years in Chattanooga and 4 years in Union County.
Adam: What would you do if you weren’t teaching?
Rudy: I ask myself that everyday and I can’t imagine what else I would do. I know it sounds cheesy or cliche, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I enjoy working on computers, programming, and writing code. Those kinds of things appeal to my math side, but there’s no people interaction. I crave people interaction.
Adam: Is it the art of teaching that you love or is it the kids?
Rudy: I think it’s both. One of the classes I typically teach is a PWC (physical world concepts) class for students that were not successful the first time around. Usually, it’s a very small class of less than 15 students. It’s a class not a lot of teachers would be excited about having, but I really like it. I like to take the opportunity to get to know the kids. I like to find out why they aren’t successful and see what we can do to help. It’s about getting to know the kids and watching them grow. I enjoy having the freshman because I like to watch them grow for four years. That’s when they walk across the stage and I can say, “Man, you’ve REALLY grown!” I can really see that they have. It’s also about the art too. How do you get the message across to the kids effectively so that they can hear it and use it.
Adam: As a football coach and a former wrestling coach, what kind of itch does that scratch for you?
Rudy: It’s just that. I get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing the students be successful. That’s my reward. My reward is not the paycheck or awards. My reward is seeing my athletes and my students be successful not just on the field or in the classroom, but after they leave. Knowing that at some level I had a hand in giving them a push or something that they could use to be successful down the road. That’s the goal.
Adam: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a student?
Rudy: Growing up, I really didn’t like teachers. I never envisioned myself being a teacher. So I don’t think I ever really connected with my classroom teachers. I probably connected the most with my teachers that were coaches because they understood me and who I was in the classroom and outside of the classroom. I felt like they could always get the most out of me. I’d have to choose my head football coach, who would have been my PE teacher also. He was one of the ones that helped me realize that I had an aptitude at teaching and coaching and that I’d be very good at it if I decided to go that route.
Adam: What was his name?
Rudy: Mark Chait. Still teaching in Sevier County.
Adam: Which educator have you learned the most from?
Rudy: Probably sounds cheesy, but my parents. I was their pupil in everything that I did. Everything was a lesson and there was a purpose behind it. They would ask me, “what’d you get out of it?” and “how could you have gotten more out of it?” They are the ones that I went to when I had a problem with anything and they are the ones that always taught me how to work through things. Being educators and coaches themselves, they understood what made me tick. They were hands down best teachers I’ve had.
Adam: Have you earned any professional awards?
Rudy: I was nominated for teacher of the year in 2014 and got to participate in the big Knox County banquet and that was fun.
Adam: Big dinner.
Rudy: BIG dinner!
Adam: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Rudy: I would hope that people would see my accomplishment as the unselfishness to help other people reach their goals. I’m serving in a leadership position here. My goal is, how can I help you get where you want to be? I think that goes back to the way I’m wired. I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching other people be successful and knowing that I’ve had a hand in that and helping to celebrate them. I get joy when other people are happy. If I can help people reach and be happy than I in turn, get some happiness back out of that.
Adam: I like that.
Adam: What do you consider a successful student to be?
Rudy: Successful students are not the straight A students. They are the students that work hard, aren’t afraid to fail, and will try until they get it right. Those are the best students and at some point in their life they’re going to be extremely successful. It may not be now, but they are developing that understanding. If it comes easy, that’s good. But we should challenge ourselves and we should experience failure because at some point in your life that’s going to be a huge thing. You’re going to fail. Learning how to work through failure is the key. It’s understanding that I may not want to be in the situation I’m in, but how can I make the most out of it and get the most out of where I am? I think that that’s success.
Adam: What’s the difference between a good and a great teacher?
Rudy: The focus; who and what are you focusing on in the classroom. Being a lead teacher, I have an opportunity to go in and observe a lot of teachers. I see good teachers and we have a building full of good teachers. We really do. We’re blessed at Hardin Valley Academy to have a lot of staff that are very good at what they do. But the ones that move from good to great are the ones who design everything around the students. They let the students own the learning and they encourage the students to seek and grow instead of saying, “I’m the one designing what you’re going to do. You’re going to follow these steps and this is what I want you to learn.” It’s understanding that the learning of a student is not linear. It’s very sideways and different students get to different places at different times. Great teachers are the ones that allow students to do that and then understand how to tie them back to where they need to be. That’s hard to do and hard to teach. It’s hard to explain and share how that happens with somebody. It took me a long time to understand that flip, but once I flipped and tried to put more focus on the students, I saw more students being successful. It wasn’t about what I was doing, it was about what they were doing in the classroom.
Adam: I think when I’ve seen that in teachers, I think it switches from a science to an art.
Adam: This is a school full of great teachers. I feel like I’m getting to know the staff here and I see a lot of happy teachers! How has that come about? Why is there such a healthy culture at Hardin Valley Academy?
Rudy: I think the administration here does a good job of letting teachers do what they want to do. When I say ‘want to do,’ they are trusting us and empowering us to do what we think is right in our classrooms. There’s not a lot of top down mandates. They want us to be ourselves in our classroom, be comfortable, and do what we think is best for the kids. When you’re allowed to do that as a teacher, when you feel like you have control at whatever level you have, I think that makes you feel like you’re getting to do something instead of following the script. I think that’s one of the fun things about teaching. We have about five teachers that teach the class that I teach and we all teach differently. Here, it’s okay to try something new and it’s okay if you fail at it. It’s that mindset of what we encourage the kids to do. Fail and learn from your mistakes. We’re allowed that same flexibility and I think that’s what makes us happy here.
Adam: What improvement would you most like to see made to public education?
Rudy: We could go on and on about this. I think class size is important and I’m not a fan of linear education. I think you learn best when you learn at your pace and when you’re allowed to learn. That would be a very artful thing they would have to do. Especially for a teacher because you would have a classroom full of students who were all in different places and you would have to know how to handle it. That’s why I say smaller class sizes would help. It’d be nice for a class to come in for physics, and be able to ask them where they want to start and what questions they had. I think students will learn that way. They’ll find what they’re interested in naturally. Then, as the teacher, tie it into what they need to be getting out of it.
Adam: I love looking at the history of science and seeing all the discoveries by men and women who did this as a hobby. Who knows what else we’re missing. If we just take advantage of all these minds and just open things up then we would see a difference. That’s very difficult to do in the current system we have.
Rudy: It’s very test driven. I’m not necessarily a proponent for not testing, I would just like to see different methods of testing. I don’t like testing. I prefer measuring. I think those two words are so totally different. I don’t typically give a lot of tests in class, but I’m constantly measuring. We have students now that will do an assignment and want to know immediately what their grade is. I’ll tell them “I’ll give you a grade if you can tell me what you learned.” They don’t understand why I won’t just grade them. Because all they want is a grade and all I want is for them to learn something. I think that’s fair. Did they learn what they were supposed to learn? Did they learn anything or are they just going through the motions and doing it because you want that A? We have that picture of what we want at the end, but along the way we ignored the journey. It’s hard to get high school students to understand that because for so long they were just taught to worry about their grade.
Adam: Teachers are from Mars and students are from Venus. That’s the communication.
Adam: What is something that you could use in your classroom for your students?
Rudy: I think we have a good amount of supplies. We’re fortunate that we can get some parents to pay the fees which allow us to buy equipment and things. I think what the kids really need here is to hear from the community. They need to hear from people that aren’t their parents. I think they need to hear from people that were not successful in school and now are successful. I think they need to hear from people who were successful in school and are struggling now. They need to hear and experience things outside of the school building.
Adam: What would be an appropriate forum for making that happen? How could that be coordinated?
Rudy: These are the things that run through my head on a daily basis. What can we do differently and how can we give students experience and exposure to life? That’s one of the biggest things I complain about. I don’t feel like I got all the exposure in terms of job choices. Not that I would’ve picked anything differently, but I didn’t know some jobs existed until I was out of college. It’s like realizing there’s more than just Pepsi and Diet Pepsi. There’s Mellow Yellow. And there’s not even just Mellow Yellow. There’s Sundrop and Squirt! It’s afterschool programming and in the school day programming. It’s an unpopular opinion with teachers because teachers are driven by test scores because they’re evaluated on test scores. I’m fortunate that I am not. I have no direct test scores tied to me that I have control over. I am evaluated based on other people’s test scores. I think that’s one of those things where I come in and out. I want to help other people so that they’ll do well and then I’ll do well. It’s not impossible, I just have to go around it in a different way. Using time during the school day to bring people in and have these experiences where they can interact in smaller group settings with individuals would be great. When you have days like that, then the students don’t want to come because they’re not getting a grade for it.
Adam: What about during the flight time?
Rudy: We do bring speakers in, but typically that’s a speaker on the stage because flight time is only 30 minutes. By the time you got in and got started, it’s almost time to be done. We have a senior portfolio program where we encourage rising seniors to do internships. Then, attached with a research class, we give them what’s called an Endorsement. An Endorsement is a distinguished diploma that was basically saying you went above and beyond and you’re going to get an extra stamp on your diploma and put it on your transcript. Colleges are going to know they did some extra things that they didn’t have to do. When I say time in the school day, I’m talking about this morning and right now. Instead of going to class, we’re going to a job fair. Maybe one day it could be STEM’s turn, then another group and so on. I think there’s a job fair that’s kicking off in the spring, but it’s afterschool. There are kids that are involved in extracurriculars that will miss it or have to stay until 9pm to attend. Then you have students who ride the bus and once they leave they have no way to get back. I think we have a nice captive audience when they’re here. Field trip days and special presentation days were always my favorite.
Adam: Do you think there’d be a riot if you made a day or morning of it? Something that was done locally here at the school and that was what everybody did that day. Maybe in between the state tests and before the local tests? Or do you think teachers are kind of in that crunch time?
Rudy: I think that would be a better time. You would either do it then or you do it way early in January, September, or August. I think that’s probably something that could happen. We talk about doing these things a lot, but we’re so big that ideas have a hard time getting any impetus in getting any real motion to them. We gather in our small communities and we talk about things and then we disperse and carry these small embers in our hands that are hard to spread because people are tired and they don’t want to talk about it. I’m tired too. I just want to make sure that the kids are getting it. A lot of times you ask the kids, “Hey, what do you all want?” They don’t even know. They don’t know what they don’t know. We’re trying to guess what they want. Sometimes you hit and sometimes you miss. In STEM this year, we’re doing these escape room type puzzles. You’re given a puzzle on a piece of paper and you have to solve it. Some of the stem classes are eating it up and can’t get enough of it. Some of them could care less. So even in STEM, one group is Yay and the other Nay.
Adam: So frustrating as a teacher!
Rudy: That goes back to knowing your students. I’ve been trying to encourage teachers in their Flight Times. They know their kids, so what do they want? You can design something for 14 students, but six of them will like it and three of them won’t. Then, the rest don’t even know if they like it or don’t like it. It’s hard to find something for everyone to like. Back to coordinating something though for the kids, I will suggest that timing to Mrs. Graham and see what she thinks about doing a Fair Day. She is our career and college counselor.
Adam: What hobbies do you have?
Rudy: Not a lot since my kids came along. They’ve eaten up my hobbies. My hobbies are spending time with the kids. We go to sporting events and just try to be a family and try to do as much as we can together. I love camping, but not everybody in my family shares that same passion. I like being outdoors, riding my bike, and running. Ten years ago I enjoyed playing golf a lot. There’s just not a lot of time. Football is definitely a hobby of mine. I don’t do it because I’m getting paid. I do it because I enjoy the time with the students and getting to know them as people and hopefully having some influence on them for when it’s their turn to become a father and a husband. I want to influence them to be good people.
Adam: What is a good way for a student or a parent to spoil you?
Rudy: I’m not somebody that typically requires a lot of spoiling. I’m very basic. I like my coffee in the morning [THANK YOU Maple Street], but what I enjoy most of all is to hear success stories of former students. If you want to encourage me, give me more of that. I love to hear from parents, “Let me tell you what my child is into now.” I like seeing them go and chase passions and dreams. Hearing those stories makes me feel like what I’m doing is worthwhile.
Adam: It justifies the sacrifices.
Rudy: Whether or not I had a direct impact on it is another situation, but you know, haha! I’m fortunate to work with students that share similar interests as me like in STEM, science, engineering, math, and all of those technology appealing things to me. Our students tend to go into those fields and when they do I’m just blown away by some of the things they’re doing. I just hope that at some level I put a spark in there somewhere or at least affected them. Sometimes bad experiences are good motivators. Hopefully I’m not a bad experience!
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