Terrific Teacher: Mark Howard

Gym teachers don’t often get the credit they deserve, perhaps because of the saying, “Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.”

But Mark Howard’s teaching refutes that saying completely, according to New Trier senior Jessie Serrino of Glencoe, who says Mark’s love of teaching shows, as he lights up the room with jokes and stories. She calls her classes with him “some of the greatest class days of my life.”

Now in his ninth year at New Trier, Mark is not just a teacher and a football and lacrosse coach to his students: He’s also a positive role model and a confidante.

A few years ago, Mark’s wife, Regina, was diagnosed with stage 3 lymphoma. Despite the stress in his personal life, Jessie recalls, “He always arrived smiling and happy to see everybody. He was honest with us—he wished he could be there for us 24/7, but just couldn’t.”

But the students were there for him, according to the Palatine native: “They are awesome. I fed off them. The kids helped me get through the year.” Mark’s wife is now in remission, and the couple is raising a 5-year-old son.

Wanting to be a positive influence is the driving force behind Mark’s teaching. The kids, who tend to hang out in his office even when they’re no longer in his class, often come to him with personal problems, such as eating disorders, drug problems and STDs. “They know I don’t judge them,” he says. And he finds them help.

Mark remembers that when he was in high school making 10 free throws earned an ‘A’ in gym. But in his class, performance is irrelevant. He creates an atmosphere that gets kids comfortable with taking risks and trying new things, growing an affinity for being active that will hopefully keep them healthy for the rest of their lives.

“I love the process, versus the product,” he says.

And a big part of the process is teaching kids to treat each other with respect—an easy feat for Mark, who served in the Air Force and the Illinois National Guard. He joyfully recalls his impact on one hockey player who was once known for his jerky attitude. Of Mark, the boy said: “He taught me how to treat people.”