More than just math

After four decades of shaping students, Mr. Hoard steps away from the classroom


By Sarah Pridgeon

Ask any student who has graduated from Mr. Tim Hoard’s math class over the last four decades and “algebra” is not what they’ll tell you they learned. Most will reply that the kids who walked into his classroom emerged at the end of the year with an unexpected toolkit of life skills.

Some might claim to have cleverly steered Mr. Hoard away from math and onto topics they knew would interest him, thus avoiding any more talk of quadratic equations for the day. Others will describe the stories he told about everything from bowling to life’s challenges and the importance of being a responsible young adult.

What few of them realized at the time is that this was all part of his plan.

A passionate teacher, Hoard’s students know how determined he is that every kid leaves his class with knowledge of long-lasting value. Over the years, through careful tutelage, he has helped many a baffled student navigate the intricacies of math, including a few who went in convinced they would never have the ability to master it.

His famed life lessons, however, were offered for a reason: to help his students understand how math relates to the real world.

“It is math to me. Math to me is logical thought and reasoning and the stories I tell are all about that,
he smiles.

“It’s my job as a math teacher to relate it to life and I like to relate it where the kids would have no idea it was part of that. That’s where we get into the life lessons that you hear about.”

Math in life

Most people aren’t aware of just how much math influences their lives on a daily basis, Hoard says. It’s much more than long division and square roots.

“It’s part of my teaching style: relating what I teach to their lives in areas that they don’t see the math,” he explains.

“Most people don’t see the math. There are some people out there who can see it; I’m not one of those, but I can tell you that it’s there.”

To do this, Hoard lets his students guide the conversation. Rather than ask them to learn how he teaches, he teaches the way they learn.

“What they get out of the lessons is more important than what I think they should get out of it. As a teacher, you’ve got to understand that the students’ questions are better than any questions you can formulate, so always take time to answer the students’ questions,” he nods.

“Then, if you have any time left over, you can put your questions in.”

When his students graduate, they do so having learned from Mr. Hoard what it means to be responsible, dedicated and thoughtful. What he hopes to teach them, he says, is how to be a problem solver.

“That’s basically what math is: teaching kids how to logically reason through a problem. I’m not just talking about what most people think math is,” he says.

“I hope they feel very confident that whatever life hands them, they can solve the problems and get what they want out of it.”

On the right foot

Hoard arrived in Sundance in 1976, making this his fortieth straight year as a teacher at the high school. His father was a railroad man, he says, and he grew up in a children’s home in Sioux Falls and then graduated high school in Murdo, South Dakota before achieving a bachelor’s degree from Black Hills State and a masters degree from South Dakota State.

Fresh out of school, he began his career in Sundance as a math teacher, PE teacher and coach, he says, and has taught in the same distinctive way ever since that first year.

“The stories and the lessons haven’t changed much – life is life,” he smiles. “I just tell them to different people and get them to relate it specifically to what we were talking about that day.”

Perhaps fittingly, his path to teaching was something of a life lesson in itself. Sometimes, it turns out, going with your gut is the right thing to do.

“I remember sitting in my freshman high school class one day, kind of bored because school was pretty easy for me, and thinking, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?” he remembers.

“I decided on a teacher because they got their summers off and it looked like an easy job to me – and, I thought, you should do what you know the most of. I’d been in education since kindergarten, that’s what I knew the most about, so that’s when I decided I was going to be a teacher.” His next decision, of course, was the kind of teacher he would like to be.

“I went to college and took the courses looking for a degree and thought, what am I going to teach? Math had the fewest number of credit hours needed and so I picked math,” he smiles.

“It’s true – it’s kind of a silly way to go into something, but it worked out.”

Hoard was lucky, he says. Math turned out to be the perfect fit.

“I’ve had a pretty good run here, especially the last 20 years has just been pure enjoyment. I can’t believe they pay me to pick on kids like I do,” he grins. “It’s a lot of fun – I enjoy what I do.”

Time out

It’s important to find balance in life, says Hoard. To offset the dedication with which he approaches every school day, he makes sure to place emphasis on his pastimes.

“My release from my job is my hobbies of fishing, bowling and golfing. I’ve always done that and it’s served me well. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t burn out as a teacher, because learning and teaching are very stressful situations and anyone who wants year-round school doesn’t understand that,” he says.

Students need time to regenerate and relax, he explains. You can see a marked difference between the eager faces at the beginning of the school year and the tired ones at the end.

“Teachers are the same way. Those were the things that I could do to keep my sanity,” he says.

“It’s not just teaching, in all jobs you need a release and, if you don’t find it, you’re going to burn out if all you do is work, work, work. That’s not life.”

Even so, he notes, teaching has always been his life’s calling.

“It does turn out that teaching was a lot of my life and education was more than that,” he says.

“I’m passionate about what I do and I’m an emotional person when I get going – and, when I do, I enjoy it, so I just let it go.”

Next adventures

Mr. Hoard will retire at the end of the school year, leaving a legacy few students will forget. It’s not the first time he has made the decision to leave, though his first retirement was for a very different reason.

“I retired when I was 52 because of a medical condition and I wanted to get things for my wife all settled because I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through. I’ve been being hired back on a yearly basis as a retiree rehire,” he says.

“It wasn’t a great financial decision, but it was the financial decision that I wanted to have everything ready for Donna before I went into the surgery. The surgery went great, but I wasn’t sure it was going to.”

Hoard deeply appreciates that the school district has hired him back every year since that time.

“I hope I was worth it for them,” he says. “I think I was.”

This time around, Hoard plans to make the most of his free time. He would like to travel the world, he says, starting with the United States and then heading overseas.

“We’ll keep our home here, we enjoy Sundance and I couldn’t have a better golf situation – it’s perfect, I can just walk outside my door and start golfing whenever I want. It’s beautiful for that,” he adds.

“Fishing is good around here, hunting is good and those are the things I like to do. For the bowling, I travel to Sturgis and Belle Fourche and I’ll continue to do my hobbies.”

One aspect of retirement will be a dramatic change for the beloved teacher, however.

“One of the things that scares me about retiring is that I don’t remember not going to school. I started kindergarten when I was four and, for 58 straight years, I’ve been going to school non-stop,” he laughs.

“I know next year when school starts, my body and whole being is going to be ready to go back to school and I’m going to have to say, nope, you don’t do that now. I’m a little bit worried about that, to be honest.”

If Hoard does appear at the front doors next August, though, it’s nothing for the occupants to worry about. It will just be to smile and wave, he says, to the students still learning inside.