Dow ends 40-year teaching career
June 9, 2011 · Updated 5:24 PM
Jim Dow said there were several things that he said he would never do in his life.
“One of them was that I never was going to be a (chemistry) teacher,” he said. “I was a chemistry major for two years in college, but then I drifted away to other things. But when I started teaching it all came full circle back to the sciences, and chemistry is where I wound up.
“You never know – that’s the kind of way it works,” he said with a laugh.
The highly regarded Dow has built better living through chemistry over his 40-year career as a teacher, the last 30 of which have been spent in the Bainbridge Island School District. He is retiring after the last day of school on June 17.
Dow’s involvement as an emergency volunteer has also been important for the community. He has been a trained emergency medical technician for more than 30 years and a volunteer fireman of27 years with the Bainbridge Island Fire Department. He is a constant presence at Bainbridge sporting events and during emergencies at the high school to deal with the situation at hand.
“Many times they have gotten me and helped mitigate it before the rest of the guys could get there,” Dow said. “I think it helps having a familiar face.”
Growing up in the south end of the island, Dow was a three-sport athlete at Bainbridge High School, playing football, basketball and baseball. He also worked at the Strawberry Plant cannery during the summer, going from a ‘swamper’ to a foreman in a couple of years.
Dow graduated in 1967, then graduated from Whitman College in 1971 with a degree in psychology.
He received his master’s of education in counseling psychology from Salem (Mass.) State College and taught seventh grade science in Quincy, Mass., but was laid off after 10 years. Within three days of getting his notice, he received a job offer from back home to teach science.
Starting at the same time as current Bainbridge High School prinicpal Brent Peterson and current Commodore principal Catherine Camp, Dow spent the first eight years at Commodore, then moved to the high school to teach chemistry and AP chemistry. He also became an assistant football coach at the high school when he started at Commodore, but stepped down in 1994, with current head football and track coach Andy Grimm taking his place. Dow coached the girls’ basketball team for two years as well in between coaching stints by Penny Gienger. Both years, his team was one or two wins away from making the state tournament.
Dow has taught biology, physical sciences and senior and freshman health over the years in addition to his main classes, but said he enjoys teaching chemistry the most because of his motto – “chemistry is life.”
“There is nothing that doesn’t go on without chemistry affecting it in some way, shape or form,” he said. “It’s a very exciting subject to me.”
He also enjoys helping students reach their potential, but marvels at the increased numbers of students that take the class every year.
"In the last 10-12 years we've seen interest in classes in the department grow like crazy," he said. "The kids are taking a lot of science classes and they're realizing it's important."
Dow said the students that attend his classes are of "high quality" that it has even made him more focused on doing his job well.
"As a teacher, to come in and teach poorly is disrespectful to them and disrespectful to myself as far as" I'm concerned, Dow said. "So I'm coming in everyday trying to do the very best I can because that's what these kids deserve. When you do that for them you see wonderful things happening with them."
That effort and care shown by Dow all these years has been reciprocated by the sheer volume of students that keep in touch with him over the years. The impact Dow has had on students that he has taught over the years can be seen with paramedics on the island – five of the six that work at the station were taught by Dow in class and at the fire department where he is the senior EMT instructor – and at the high school.
AP biology teacher Korrie Beemer and assistant principal Jake Haley are two of Dow's colleagues who played under Dow when they attended Bainbridge and were mentored by him when they started at the high school.
"Jim has been a kind of father figure for so many students here for so long (especially girls)," Beemer wrote in an email interview. "He has an honest and genunine way of communicating with students that goes beyond the written job description for a teacher.
"He greets students in the hallway between every class period always, which may seem insignificant, but is really meaningful," she continued. "Students see him and know he is there for him physically and emotionally."
Haley concurred, saying that his humanity and amiableness is a great asset in dealing with people.
"He has stories that can rivet you for hours, varying from different calls as a volunteer fire fighter, trips down an exotic river, humorous stories on past teaching, or just a life event," Haley wrote in an email interview. "He teaches in parables as many master teachers do. There is a brilliance and a glow when you interact with him. He is visible at all events and supports students both in the classroom and out of the classroom.
"He simply is a legend, inspiration, and will be greatly missed," he continued.
While Dow will not have to deal with grading tests and supervising labs and study sessions, he will still be busy in retirement.
He will continue with the fire department, remain a member of the Whitman admission office as he currently sits on the board, visit many of his students who live around the world and work with a group of medical professionals to train paramedics and nurses.
There will be a drop-in reception from 4-6 p.m. June 19 in the BHS Commons, but the purpose, Dow said, will be for him to thank people, not to honor him.
“It’s for me to shake their hand and say thank you because it’s the community and the people that have made my career,” he said.