When he talks about his 30 years as a teacher at Soroco High School, Byron Dean often shifts the focus to his students.
That’s the way it should be, the longtime vocational agriculture teacher said.
He stares at the back wall of his classroom that adjoins the South Routt School District’s administrative offices to look at the more than 100 National FFA organization district and state competition plaques that adorn the walls.
Dean mentions the 10 students — including two this year — who will be awarded with the prestigious American Degree, the highest honor bestowed to FFA participants. He said only 0.5 percent of all FFA members achieve the distinction.
Or he’ll mention the many students who during his tenure earned state degrees, of which only 1.5 percent of FFA members achieve.
He said the Soroco chapter that he’s sponsored for three decades is “just way above the curve on many of those awards.”
It’s something Dean said makes him proud.
“Of anything, I will really miss the kids, their achievements and working with them,” he said.
Celebrating the accomplishments of his students, who earned the plaques on his walls — none of which were there when he arrived in 1980 — has been the most rewarding aspect of his job.
At the end of the school year, Dean will retire.
In the classroom
A group of sophomores in Dean’s Agriculture 2 class — one of many he’s teaching this quarter — said Wednesday that their teacher is tough. Dean pushes them, they said, but he’s always available if they need a hand.
“He kind of lets us learn after showing us how to do something, then helps us if we do something wrong,” Taylor Hammer said.
But it’s not all hard work.
“You can joke around with him, and he’ll joke back,” Joey Anderson said.
Madison George — one of five students in the class whose parents also were taught by Dean, including Dean’s granddaughter Danielle Donaldson — said it’s going to be a lot different next year without him.
The students said they hope he doesn’t move. He lives down the street from Anderson.
“He’s not only a good teacher, he’s a good friend,” Hammer said.
Dean’s granddaughter Donaldson, a senior who serves as his aide in the class, said he’ll be bored in retirement. She said Dean’s life has revolved around teaching and hunting. He has twice hunted big game in Africa.
Dean described teaching as a “young person’s profession.” He said he still has the energy but wants to do some of the things that he hasn’t been able to do because teaching hasn’t been a 9-to-5 job. Those things include hunting, fishing and traveling.
This quarter, Dean teaches introduction to shop and welding, Vocational Agriculture 1 and 2, agricultural mechanics, advanced agricultural mechanics and advanced agricultural science. He was also taught chemistry and physics until recently.
Spanish teacher Beth Faris, who joined the South Routt School District 14 years ago, said Dean’s devotion to his students is “unbelievable.” She said he spends time in June after the school year has ended, visiting each of his agriculture students, all of whom participate in FFA, to check in on their projects. It will be the last thing he does before retiring.
Faris said Dean “works one on one with students, hours after school or anytime.” She said he’ll be impossible to replace with one person.
“It would literally take four or five people to do what he does,” she said. “He’s so dedicated. It’s hard to find single words to describe him. He’s kind of like the foundation for us here because he’s been here so long, and because he’s so versatile.”
A tough act to follow
Superintendent Scott Mader said it’s hard to replace a teacher with as much experience as Dean. Mader said Dean has established a tradition.
“It’s going to be hard for someone to step in his shoes, absolutely,” Mader said.
Faris said Dean is the last of a core group of Soroco teachers who were there when she arrived at the school. She can’t believe he’s retiring. Faris said she’s trying not to think about what the school will be like without him.
“For me personally, it’s a loss,” Faris said. “And for our district, it’s a loss. You can’t replace the experience, love and dedication he has. It will take a long time, if ever.”
Dean joined Soroco after a spending time in the Air Force. After his service, he was studying to be a veterinarian. A professor who knew Dean taught mechanics in the military suggested he consider becoming a school teacher.
When Dean was looking for a job, he found the vocational agriculture position in South Routt. Dean said he jumped at the opportunity, having been familiar with the area where he and his wife, Clarice, honeymooned 10 years before.
He wanted to find a place to work and start a career — somewhere he could stay. He’s never looked back.
“I’ve loved my career, absolutely loved my career,” Dean said.