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The Last of the Original Staff of Seneca Valley is Set to Fly into the Sunset

December 22, 2015

Greased Pigs, Playboy Centerfolds, and Soaring Through the Clouds: History Teacher Leaves Seneca Valley After More Than 41 Years

 

When Ed Deitch walks out of Seneca Valley High School for the last time on Wednesday, Dec. 23 an amazing amount of history will walk out with him.

   Deitch taught history at Seneca Valley for 41-and-a-half years. He will take with him memories of over 41 years of Germantown teenagers. Memories of Seneca Valley High School as a new school in 1974, surrounded by farmland and populated by farm families. It is possible that Deitch taught the children of some of his students, heck, it is possible that he taught the grandchildren of some of his earliest students.

   When Deitch started at Seneca Valley in 1974, the Vietnam War was just coming to an end. “To put things in perspective,” said Deitch, “I had kids in my first class who had older brothers who had died in Vietnam.” Indeed, President Richard Nixon resigned just a few weeks prior to the start of classes at Seneca Valley in August of 1974.

   He is the last of the original staff who began working at the Germantown high school when it first opened. He has watched Germantown grow up from a farming community in the 1970s to the urban population center it is now, all through the filter of it’s teenagers.

   He is retiring this week to do what most folks can only dream about — and what some are doing now because of his influence. He is retiring from teaching to pursue his lifetime passion full-time. He’s retiring to fly. Deitch, a longtime licensed pilot, has been offered an opportunity to be a full-time corporate pilot at age 68.

   “I was planning on leaving at the end of this school year,” said Deitch, “it was no secret everybody knew this was going to be my last year, but a few months ago the company that I fly with said they could use me full-time starting in early 2016, and I said ‘OK.’ That was what made up my mind. It is an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often.”

 

There From the Beginning

In the time that Ed Deitch has been teaching at Seneca Valley, Germantown has grown from having a population of just 6,684 in 1980 to a community of over 86,395 in 2010, according to US Census Bureau data.

   “When I started at Seneca Valley, you could look out the windows and see cows,” said Deitch. “There were literally farms across the street. There were cows grazing across Crystal Rock Road where the office buildings are now. Middlebrook Road was one lane in each direction. A lot of our kids, their families were farmers. Some of our families were tenant farmers. We had a 4H club. When people thought Seneca Valley High School, they thought rural and rustic. They thought farmland.”

   When Deitch started, Seneca Valley was the only high school in the area. The only other schools in the upcounty area of Montgomery County were Gaithersburg High School, Damascus High School, and Poolesville High School. “There was no Northwest or Clarksburg, or Quince Orchard. We drew from a very large area. The majority of our kids were from upper-middle-class families, but on the other side of the coin we had a lot of kids whose families were farmers.”

   In the 41-plus years that Deitch has been working at Seneca Valley much has changed about Germantown and the surrounding area. “Germantown is great,” said Deitch, who has been commuting to town from Sterling, Va. for many of his 41 years. “There is a lot of good things to be said for Germantown. It has progressed in a way that is positive in many ways. One of the things that I see is kids of many races being friends–being buddies, and that is great. When I was in school, you didn’t see much of that. Nowadays, you see Blacks, Latinos, and Whites, all hanging out with Asians — and they are all buddies. They sit together; they eat together, and they discuss things together. In my room at lunch, there are a bunch of kids of all races and backgrounds all sitting there joking around with each other and having a good time. This is a good thing. People get to see another side of life, another background or culture that maybe isn’t in their life and to a large degree that is a very good thing. I believe in diversity. It is for the better.”

 

Some Things Never Change

While Germantown has changed so much during his time at Seneca Valley, one that that has not changed all that much in 41 years, is teenagers.

   “Kids are kids,” said Deitch. “In many ways, they are still the same. No matter what their economic background, or religion, or race, or ethnicity. You are going to have some who try and are successful. There are going to be some that are just brilliant, and some that for whatever the reasons they don’t try and are unsuccessful. We can try to help them as much as we can to get the on the right path. Kids are still kids. Back in 1974, we had kids that would make you pull your hair out because no matter what you do – it just isn’t working. And there were always kids that were awesome.”

   “I don’t see a lot of difference in kids today from when I started,” said the history teacher. “Every generation sees fault in the newer generation. Kids are kids and they do silly things, to a certain degree that never changes.”

   And he has seen kids do some amazingly silly things in his time at Seneca Valley. “One of my favorite memories is from the early years,” said Deitch. “The seniors pulled a senior prank where they released 25 greased pigs in the cafeteria. This was back when greased pigs were a little easier to find around Germantown.”

   He said that a number of years later another group of seniors put Playboy centerfolds in the roll-up maps and screens in all the classrooms. “So the teachers would pull down the screen, and there was a Playboy centerfold staring at the class. That was interesting,” he laughed. “It was a different time and a different place. I don’t think that would go over well today.”

   Deitch said he was going to miss interacting with the students every day. “It is always fun. An old colleague once told me, ‘if you are having fun, the students will have fun, enjoy what you are doing.’ It was good advice. I enjoy dealing with kids. As a teacher, you try to help kids along the way as much as you can.”

   In the course of 41 years, Deitch said that he has taught some amazing students. “Over the years, I have had phenomenal kids. I have phenomenal kids now. There are kids that are just extraordinary. I remember having kids in my class that were at once — brilliant students, amazingly talented artists, earning physics scholarships to Princeton, gifted musicians, and fantastic people. Where you say, ‘How can one person be that good at everything?’ Knowing those kids has made this journey all the more special, and there are kids like that in every class in every school.”

   While he firmly believes that teenagers are teenagers, no matter the decade, Deitch believes that today’s teens are often under much more stress and must deal with more to overcome than previous generations.

   “Kids today have many more challenges,” he said. “Every year for the last 10 or 15 I have students that have to work to support their families. They go to school, they go home, they go to work at night. And sometimes they don’t want to get up and go to school, after working all night. And you can’t blame them. I wonder how many students at some other county schools have these same issues. How many students at Whitman need to work to support their families? That is the problem with a one-size fits all approach to teaching.”

 

The Profession of Teaching Has Changed

Deitch said that he backed into becoming a teacher, after serving three years in the army as an artillery officer. He was in his second year at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which was about 45 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. He was bored with his studies. “I was looking in a magazine, and the article I read said the places with the greatest ratio of girls-to-guys was Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. The following week I put in applications to USC, UCLA, and American University and GW in Washington. I ended up going to AU.”

   On the suggestion of a friend, he took a teaching course as an elective his senior year at AU. “My first reaction was: Why the hell would I want to teach?” But he took the class and found that he liked it, and ended up student-teaching at Water Johnson High School in Bethesda in the Fall of 1973. In the Spring of 1974, they hired me as a full-time sub. It was at Walter Johnson that he learned that he loved teaching.  “The following year they were hiring teachers for this new high school they were building out in the farmland in Germantown, which was to open in the Fall of 1974.”

   “I taught U.S. history, a great course called problems of the 20th Century,” said Deitch. “And then about eight years later. I saw a piece of paper on the floor talking about a course called Aviation Science. I was already a pilot, I had earned my pilot’s license in high school – I thought that sounds interesting. I asked the principal at that time, a great guy named Nathan Pearson, if I could teach this course. He told me that if I got 30 kids to sign up, we could offer it.  The first year I had 150 kids sign up for the course.”

   “My favorite years of teaching were the ten years I spent teaching Aviation Science. It was a time when you had the ability to what you wanted to do as a teacher,” said Deitch. “You were respected as a professional, in that the administration saw the value in what you were doing and let you go with it. The aviation program was incredible. We had four field trips a year. We went to the Air and Space Museum, Andrews Air Force Base, and Patuxent River Air Station, which was where the Navy had its test pilot school, we’d go to both airports to tour the tower. I think a lot of kids became inspired to pursue careers in aviation because of that class. That was the best.”

   For ten years Deitch headed the Aviation Club at Seneca Valley. He said a number of former students are now airline pilots, military pilots, air traffic controllers, and aeronautic mechanics as a result of taking that class. “I still keep in touch with a lot of them. That was probably the best time at Seneca Valley. It was a great course. It lasted ten years, before Montgomery County in its infinite wisdom forced me to stop teaching it because I was the only one in the county teaching it.”

   So much has changed in the profession of teaching in the years Deitch has been teaching. Montgomery County Public Schools have been headed by 10 different superintendents, and Seneca Valley has had nine different principals during Deitch’s tenure as teacher.

   The veteran teacher laments the state of teaching today as he walks away from the profession. “When I started teaching problems of the 20th Century. It was a course that the school system allowed the teacher to base the curriculum on his or her areas of expertise. As a teacher, you had a free hand. You were treated as a professional. You were expected to draw up the curriculum and follow through with it.”

   “Today, it seems like there is an awful lot of micromanagement that goes on in schools. Teachers are under a lot of pressure,” he said. “I understand it comes from the top. It filters down from the states to the districts, and the administrators, to the teachers. I understand where it comes from, it is mandated standardized tests, and your worth, as teacher or principal, or superintendent, is based on how those scores look. So all the emphasis is based on getting those standardized test up and looking good on paper. And if you can do that you are successful. If not, you have problems.”

   “I have heard it aptly described as the deskilling of teachers. You are micromanaged to the point where someday all teachers will be teaching the same thing in the same manner at the same time in every class. It is all aimed at increasing standardized test scores so that we fulfill the objectives we are required to fulfill. But, I don’t think it is good for teachers, and I don’t think it is good for students. But that is just my opinion.”

 

Downcounty Tennis

Like many teachers, Deitch did more than teach he also coached tennis for 20 years at Seneca Valley.

    “I started coaching tennis because, at the end of a faculty meeting in 1974, the principal said, as an afterthought, ‘Oh, and we need a tennis coach.’ I liked tennis. I played tennis — I still do, so I told him I was interested. The next day I was introduced to the athletic director as the new head tennis coach.” Deitch spent 15 years at boys tennis coach, one year as both boys and girls coach, and the last four years as coach of the girls tennis team.

   “In those early days, we were somewhat competitive in the upcounty area, with Damascus and Poolesville,” said Deitch. “And one year we had a pretty good team, and I said let's challenge one of those downcounty teams to a tennis match. So I called up the tennis coach at Whitman — which has always been a tennis powerhouse. They are just at a different level. So we get in the bus and pull up to Whitman, and there are two guys out on the court, and they are just slamming the ball back in forth with speed and accuracy. It was an impressive display. All our kids were at the windows of the school bus watching these guys in awe.”

   “Our kids are going, ‘Holy crap! Look at these guys they are incredible. We are in trouble.’ I said, “look, guys, they’re probably their No. One and No. Two players. They can’t all be that good. Don’t worry about it.”

   “My guys reluctantly got off the bus, and they ask the two kids playing if they were, in fact, the No. One and Two players. And the Whitman kids said, ‘One and two? We didn’t even make the team. We were cut.’ We found out what really good tennis was all about; we lost every match 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.”

   While he enjoyed coaching tennis he eventually stopped coaching to allow for more time to do what he loved, the same thing he is giving up teaching for — flying. “I stopped coaching because flying was beginning to take too much of my time. And the flying won out,” he said.

   “When you think about it Seneca Valley has been a huge part of my life,” said Deitch. I got married while I was working at Seneca Valley, my daughter was born when I was at Seneca Valley. I have two grandkids; they were born while I was working at Seneca Valley.”

    And flying is winning out once again as Deitch leaves the school he’s been working out for 41-and-half-years to devote more time to his life-long love of flying. He has been teaching full-time and flying part-time for many years, but he’s been piloting his entire life. Ed Deitch’s life work has been safely piloting four generations of Germantown teenagers through the turbulence of high school for over 40 years.

 

Captions:

 

Top: Ed Deitch doing what he loves most, in the cockpit of a plane. He also taught Aviation Science at Seneca Valley for 10 years. He will retire after more than 41 years at the Seneca Valley. He is the last of the original staff that opened the school in 1974.

Next: Seneca Valley High School history teacher Ed Deitch in action, in front of a class at the school teaching. 

Next: One of Deitch’s old ID cards.

Next: Deitch with the Aviation Club from the 1994-1995 school year.

Next: The 1988-1989 Aviation Club with legendary test pilot Chuch Yeager at the Air & Space Musem.

Next: Coach Deitch

Next: Deitch also coached both boys and girls tennis at Seneca Valley for 20 years.

.

 

Photos supplied.

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