“You know the three best things about teaching? June, July and August,” Gordon Sadler, a math teacher at Bret Harte High School, said with a laugh. “Truthfully, the appeal of teaching is the light that goes on when a student gets it. It’s also staying young – from being around the kids all the time, you can’t help but stay young, and when kids come back, it’s awesome.”
Sadler was recently chosen as the school’s Teacher of the Year.
To illustrate his point, Sadler said he will be working with student-turned-teacher Brian Barnett.
“I’m going to be working with (Mark Twain Elementary teacher) Brian Barnett next year,” Sadler said. “I knew him as a little kid and coached him. I mentored him when he started teaching, and we’ve been working connectively for 15 years. Now I get to work with him at Bret Harte. That’s amazing to me!”
A self-described “Bullfrog for life,” Sadler has been a fixture on the Bret Harte campus for nearly 30 years.
“I started my teaching career under the greatest administration you could ever be under, Ron Lewis and Bob Bach. This next year will be my fifth decade – ’90s, 2000s, teens and ’20s,” he said with a touch of awe. “It’s so crazy.”
Hired in 1989, Sadler has taught math I through III, business math, geometry and trigonometry. Though he has been a leader of myriad teams, clubs and organizations, the classroom is his kingdom.
“Mr. Sadler always knows how to keep the attention of his students. Even though I did not enjoy the homework, I remember how much I looked forward to that class. He knows how to make a class which may not be desirable, into a great time for everyone,” said Bret Harte senior Luke Bakke. “Whether it’s by cracking jokes, singing you a custom song on your birthday, or just teaching with a smile, he always knows how to make people happy.”
Tyra Dragomanovich, Bret Harte’s leadership adviser and an alumnae, added, “He is resilient and willing to change with the times and generations, which in turn means he’s able to keep the students engaged.”
Sadler, who sports the same crew cut hair style and trim mustache that have become trademarks since his arrival at Bret Harte, grew up in Lower Lake, Calif., and graduated from Lower Lake High School. He attended Yuba Junior College and California State University, Chico, where he earned a degree in mathematics.
“I was an engineering major at first and had completed a bunch of the math major; I switched to math. There are so many fields that use math that I could have chosen, it was wide open,” Sadler said. “I didn’t have to go into education, but I chose education. Both my parents are teachers. My dad taught (physical education) and algebra and my mom taught second grade.”
Sadler was the head football coach from 1995 to 2004. And though he does not mention it, his 2000 team is the last squad to win the Mother Lode League title and bring home the coveted victory bell from Calaveras High. He has also coached baseball and wrestling, and was a basketball referee for 20 years.
For the past 28 years he has served as a negotiator for the Bret Harte Teachers’ Association, and at various times, as a BHTA officer. He is currently an assistant track coach and an adviser for the Christians on Campus club.
“He is never one to judge, very forgiving and always loving. He’s not one to talk about living a righteous life, he is one to lead by example,” Bakke, who is a member of the club, said. “He is a phenomenal role model for me.”
A “huge supporter” of the school’s FFA and leadership programs, Sadler is a “go-to” guy for most anything needed, including changing a colleague’s dead car battery, performing in the school musical or chaperoning the senior class at Disneyland.
“I have no problem playing the clown, and … there are lots of pictures to prove it,” he said, laughing at some of his favorite stunts – including donning a singlet and wrestling at a rally, and dressing up in a wild array of costumes for spirit days.
“I’ve never seen anyone operate on such little sleep, yet be so involved at such a high level of positive energy,” said Timothy Randall, current math department head. “Whether there is a kiss-a-pig fundraiser, hosting a Spring Olympic team, coaching shot and discus, empowering a Christians on Campus club, helping the FFA Dairy Team prepare for problem-solving competition, singing multilinguistic renditions of Happy Birthday, or telling an unending series of horrible puns, there he is. He always shuns the spotlight, because GSad is there for the kids.”
Known to unleash his humor and practical-joker skills on others, he grows increasingly animated sharing one of his “standout classroom memories,” a moment when the tables were turned on him.
“I’ll never forget the day Ace Anderson, Jake Stone and Tara McCarty were celebrating somebody’s birthday, and they fed me a chili pepper cupcake. I ate it, didn’t let anybody know and went over to drink my water, but they’d put baking soda in it! So the next step was to get my other water bottle. I went to drink it and it had peppermint oil in it,” he said. “They had me pegged. They were good!”
Dedicated to the profession, Sadler also has a life outside of teaching.
A resident of Murphys, Sadler and wife, Elaine, will celebrate their 26th wedding anniversary this June. They have two daughters, Kayla, 23, and Hailey, 21.
Sadler enjoys weekend escapes to “hunt ducks wherever they are” with Bret Harte P.E. teacher and pal Rich Juarez. A volunteer firefighter the past 27 years, he is currently a captain with the Murphys Fire Protection District.
Sadler said he lives by the motto instilled in him by his late father, Gordon Sadler Sr.
“Do what’s right, give 100 percent, treat others as you want to be treated, and the scoreboard of life takes care of itself,” he recited from memory. “That came from my dad and from all his years of coaching.”
Despite his willingness to “play the clown” at a rally or kiss a pig in the quad at lunch, Sadler is quick to point to his excellent colleagues and shy away from the Teacher-of-the-Year recognition.
“We have phenomenal teachers on this campus, so to be chosen is an honor and very cool,” he said with the hint of a grin. “It’s really nice to be chosen by your peers, people I really respect.”
The respect clearly goes both ways.
“The honor is well-deserved,” said Bret Harte Principal Heath Lane. “Gordon has a gift for being able to connect with students and make learning fun.”
That ability to connect has not only helped foster a rewarding career for Sadler, but has allowed him to play an essential role in the lives of others.
“Mr. Sadler helped me see my love for math and that inspired me to become a teacher, just like him. His personality, style and love of teaching math created a spark in me to drive me to be a fun, energetic and effective teacher,” said Kaelin Redmond, class of 2007, who currently teaches pre-algebra at Camino Real Middle School in Las Cruces, N.M. “When I decided to pursue a teaching degree, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my inspiring Bret Harte teachers, like Mr. Sadler, and become a teacher that not only has a love for their subject, but cares about their students as well.”
And while it may be too soon to see his full impact on the current cycle of students, his influence is prized.
“I’ve been blessed to have had Mr. Sadler as a part of my life,” Bakke said. “He’s one of my biggest role models, and I will be proud if one day I become half the man he is.”