Laid-back teacher is 'the best of the best'

April 04, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

Editor's note: This is the seventh in a monthly series highlighting excellent educators in Washington County high schools. Next month: Washington County Technical High School.

HAGERSTOWN - If you hear Mr. Hornbecker's students call him Bob, it isn't a sign of disrespect.

It's who he is.

Laid-back, relaxed and a people person, Bob Hornbecker has been teaching at South Hagerstown High School for 33 years.

Principal Richard Akers calls him "the best of the best."

Students say Hornbecker's regular-guy moniker belies his one-in-a-million qualities.

"He just does a fantastic job. Getting the kids to believe that you like them and you care about them, that's really half the battle," Akers said. "And you know, he's just very genuine and he has a great sense of humor and he just does a great job with them."


That's just Bob.

"I just like being around kids. I think it's a great career," Hornbecker said after a Monday afternoon class last month.

Hornbecker's Advanced Placement psychology class - his favorite - is raucous and energetic, not what you'd expect from a group of students that includes one projected South High valedictorian and several of the school's most academically gifted upperclassmen.

"It's kind of nice to come to a class that's a serious subject and he's not all serious about it," senior Sarah Buhrman, 17, said as she and other students worked at creating an "intelligence test" for prospective freshmen.

Who's the most lenient teacher? What's the best route from business class to Spanish? The quickest line in the cafeteria?

Who teaches government, history and psychology?

That would be Hornbecker.

"Three preps takes a little more time," Hornbecker, the social studies department leader, said of the three classes he teaches this spring. "But you've got the students and somebody's got to teach them."

Hornbecker teaches modern American history and two psychology courses - honors psychology and A.P. psychology. He also has taught government.

Hornbecker said he most enjoys teaching psychology because, "you can apply so many real-world situations to it."

Many A.P. psychology students are taking the subject for the first time. Senior Amber Fraley, 17, said Hornbecker makes the class' technical curriculum relevant to students.

"He's a really good teacher and he explains things in a way we understand it," Fraley said.

Hornbecker loves children so much that he used to work on a playground - that's where he first started telling people to call him Bob - and even took on the title of "Mr. Mom" when he and his wife, Donna, ran a day-care center.

A long-distance runner, Hornbecker has coached track, cross country and tennis. His best time in the JFK 50-Mile, he said, was 9 hours and 25 minutes.

Hornbecker coached cross country for 30 years and track for 10 years at Williamsport High School, where his daughter, Mandy, 23, was a runner. He passed something else down to her - she's a teacher at Hickory Elementary School. Son Brian, 27, lives in Alexandria, Va., and is pursuing a doctorate in public policy.

Hornbecker said he doesn't run the JFK anymore, but running clichs still slip into his lessons at school, where he tells students they shouldn't compare themselves to each other - they should only compete against their own previous bests.

Running still helps Hornbecker stay loose, and he's relaxed as he smoothes down the hair on either side of his head and tells his students, "I'm really obsessive-compulsive about my hair. Every hair has to be in place."

After 35 years at South High, Hornbecker's hair might be thinning, but his zest for teaching still is evident.

"If you're excited about this stuff - and I like psychology - the kids pick up on it," Hornbecker said.

The most-veteran South High teacher has no intention of leaving.

"I always joke if I die here, I want a bronze statue out in the courtyard," he said.

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