(Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series in which Hub City Times interviews retiring educators.)
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Anyone that had Bill Zuiker as a teacher knows about his incredible ability to analyze literature, find meaning and themes in books, and think critically about messages authors are trying to communicate. Literature has not been Zuiker’s only passion, however. Basketball has also played a large role in his life.
Zuiker taught in Abbotsford directly after getting his undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He then earned his master’s degree in English literature at UW-Madison. While at Stevens Point, Zuiker played basketball for the Pointers, and in Madison he worked as a graduate-assistant coach for the Badgers basketball team. He then traveled to Illinois State and was an assistant basketball coach there.
Zuiker enjoyed his time in coaching but decided that he could not see himself pursuing it as his life’s work, so he returned to Wisconsin to teach.
“Truthfully, I missed teaching. I really did, and so Marshfield was where we landed,” Zuiker said. He has now been in Marshfield for 27 years, spending the last three as the head coach of the Tigers boys basketball program. Concurrent with his retirement, Zuiker will relinquish head coaching duties as Scott Scheuer takes over that role.
Zuiker said that he was drawn to teaching in part because he had tremendous educators as he was growing up.
“I kind of always wanted to be a teacher,” Zuiker said. “I had really good teachers as a kid, teachers that made an impact on me, and I had outstanding coaches too.”
“I thought I could make a difference with people,” he added. During his time as a teacher Zuiker has taught honors and regular English to multiple grade levels and the Advanced Placement Language course. He said his favorite class to teach was English Three Honors, American Literature.
“I mean, I’ve liked them all, but that was a class that I thought I was most qualified to teach,” he said. “I always liked the freedom that I had in English Three Honors, the freedom to take a little more time on something if we needed it, the freedom to teach what I wanted or what I thought was best for the kids.”
One of the things Zuiker enjoyed about teaching literature was that he could see students having realizations and progressing in their thinking.
“It was teaching thinking. When you become a teacher, you had better know that most of the kids you’re going to stand in front of don’t really care as much about the subject as you do, and that’s all right. It’s quite natural, but that was the reason I went into English was because I thought they might not all become English teachers — most of them certainly won’t — but everybody has to think, and everybody has to read, and everybody has to make critical decisions, and so I thought, ‘That’s the avenue that literature can connect with kids,’” Zuiker said.
Keeping his eye on the ball, keeping his focus on solely what happens in the classroom and on what is best for his students have been Zuiker’s guiding principles as a teacher. He also said that he enjoys being around young people.
“You hear all the time, ‘Oh, these kids today.’ Kids are great. You know, they don’t change much. They’re enthusiastic, certainly not all of them, but they’re very willing to listen and to be taught. … You don’t have to like everybody that you teach, but you have to love them. You have to love the potential in them. You have to love the fact that they’re putting themselves in your hands for nine months. It’s a great trust,” Zuiker said.
The thought of retirement has been with Zuiker for a few years, and he said there is no single reason as to why he is retiring now.
“I am a little more tired than I used to be,” he said. “I feel fine. I feel very good about what I’ve done. I guess if I had to do it more I could, but I really would like to spend some more time with my wife.”
In 1999 Zuiker won the Kohl Fellowship Award that “recognizes and supports teaching excellence and innovation in the State of Wisconsin.” To earn that award, teachers must be “nominated by parents, teachers, students, community members, or school district administrators.”
The award is just one tangible example of what has been an outstanding career in teaching. However, Zuiker’s greatest accomplishment is likely intangible as his influence is strongest felt in the memories, hearts, and minds of the many students he made stronger thinkers, writers, and scholars.