Christopher Carver. (Photo by John Yoon/The Tattler)

Editor’s Note: This story was written for and originally published in “The Tattler,” Ithaca High School’s student newspaper.

Christopher Carver teaches Regents and Honors Economics as well as AP Human Geography. Many students find Carver, known for his ability to combine effective teaching with dry humor, very personable. I interviewed him to get to know him better.

1 — Where did you grow up / go to school?

Christopher Carver: I grew up in Trumansburg, New York and went to high school there. I was in the largest class ever at Trumansburg High School. Our class graduated with 120 students.

2 — What was your favorite childhood memory?

CC: I don’t know if I have a favorite childhood memory. Soccer was my main one; my “thing” was being captain of the soccer team. It made me happy, made me feel relatively cool. But I don’t know if I have one memory that was amazing. Maybe Bar Harbor, in Maine. I went there with my parents. It’s a little cold in the summer. I wanted my parents to take me to the beach. I just wanted to go swimming, and their idea of doing that was going all the way to Maine. I jumped in the water. It was 56 degrees—numb. Thank you, parents.

3 — Speaking of your parents, what is your family like?

CC: I have one brother. He’s five years younger than me; he looks older than me, he’s taller than me, he’s heavier than me, and he has a beard. He just went into teaching, which is kind of crazy. He got hired in Rochester a couple of weeks ago, and makes more money than me. He just bought a new car. I’m kind of jealous.

Christopher Carver. (Photo by John Yoon/The Tattler)

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4 — Has your high-school experience influenced how you approach teaching?

CC: I think my approach to teaching is a combination of my personality and that of my favorite teachers from high school. I had one teacher, Mr. Bond, who was my favorite teacher in high school. He’s actually one of the reasons why I went into teaching. He had already been teaching 30 years, and he was still fantastic and interesting and connected with students. He would wear jeans and a shirt and tie every day and he had really strange mannerisms and he was just funny.

He had a habit: whenever I said something in class that was wrong, he would look at me and say, “Chris, that was exactly wrong.” So I liked him and I try to be unpredictable, I think, because of him. I try not to be too sarcastic when I’m teaching, but I had a particularly sarcastic teacher, my science teacher, and he had a notice up on the wall that was a quote, and it said, “The floggings will continue until morale improves,” which was sort of his approach to teaching. I think that’s kind of funny; in fact, I hung it up in the back of my room this year.

And then there’s also my experience in Ethiopia. Being in one of the least-developed countries in the world and seeing what education means to people who don’t get it, and the ways in which the stuff that we talk about in class affects—or doesn’t affect—people there. Building that understanding of what the world is like for people here is also really central to what I do.

5 — When did you become interested in economics?

CC: My senior year of high school, we had to take Government and Economics, just like you guys do here. Except we didn’t do as good of a job of it in Trumansburg. There was only one 12th grade teacher and he was a history major; he didn’t know anything about economics. So he taught the whole year about Government, and the last two weeks, right before we graduated, he was like, “Hey, there’s this thing called economics.” He put up a couple graphs on the board, which were probably wrong. Despite that, it was enough for me—it was interesting, it was exciting, and I wanted to learn more about that.

So I went to college undeclared, and there were exploratory classes that you could take, which were supposed to be in depth with a professor in a small setting. And I got the one that was my first choice, called “The Economics of Public Policy Issues”. And that class was fantastic. I worked with a professor from my first semester, and I knew right away that’s what I wanted to do. By the end of my freshman year, I had declared a major in Economics.

6 — Why do you think Economics is taught in the 12th grade? Why not earlier?

CC: That’s a good question. The most practical answer is that there’s no Regents in Economics. And in the social sciences, there’s a Regents in Global History, which requires two years, and United States History. We base a lot of our curriculum off of getting people through those tests, and then take care of some of the other stuff later, when you don’t have to pass a test to show some state level of proficiency. That’s the simple answer.

I think it does go well senior year, I have to say. I try to teach Economics as a bridge between high school and life, high school and college, high school and stuff outside of school. And it does that really well. Economics is so relevant. Very little of it is historical. It’s about how you can apply what you’ve learned in all sorts of disciplines to the decisions you’re going to make in your life, and I think that it’s easy to connect with seniors because they’re looking forward, they’re looking for something different, they’re looking to see what their experience will be like in the real world.

7 — What significance does AP Human Geography hold in a school’s curriculum?

CC: Human Geography is a really interesting course, and the first thing that anybody asks me when I talk about it is, “What the heck is Human Geography?” It’s fundamentally any human characteristic with a spatial component. It’s not just about geography, not just about pointing to something on a map. You do need to be able to find things on a map, but it’s more about explaining why a pattern or process occurs on a map where it does.

Human Geography is a fascinating course. It could be called other things: you could call it Development and Sociology or Community and International Development (which was actually my undergraduate minor).

Our units are Population and Migration, Agriculture and Resource Use, Economic Development, Political Geography, and Cultural Geography. It’s all aspects of the human condition. It’s designed to give students a broad view of the world, to understand their connection to other places and to be less ethnocentric. I think Human Geography is a really important thing to teach anybody going out into the world, no matter what your major in college or what your career will be. I think it focuses on the interconnectedness of global society and the responsibility that people have as global citizens.

8 — What do you like most about IHS/ICSD?

CC: What I like most about any school district is that it’s the center of a community. Not only do students come here to live and learn and grow up, but there’s events after school, during school, on the weekends. Every day I drive by IHS, or most schools, the parking lots are full and there are events, whether they be athletics or plays or a whole host of things. I like that the school is the center of the community and that I’m some small part of that.

9 — What would you change about the school?

CC: The fundamental thing, in my opinion, that we need to change is the rate of turnover of our administrators, specifically our principal. We have outstanding teachers and great administrators as well, but you must have continuity to move forward and to have a concrete vision.

When you bring somebody through a revolving door every two or three years, everybody well meaning has their own policies, their own way of doing things. And when you do that too often, you end up with this really chopped-up approach. We’ve built it up under our current principal pretty well now. We have some established norms. Students are held accountable when they miss classes.

There are procedures in place for a whole bunch of policies behind the scenes between teachers and administrators, and I’m afraid that we’ll lose that again when Mr. Powers leaves—and we’ll start over.

10 — How do students today compare to students when you were in high school?

CC: Well, when I was in high school, we didn’t have cell phones. People started having cell phones in about my senior year of college. I still remember memorizing friends’ phone numbers and dialing from my parents’ house and running upstairs to use the upstairs phone so my parents wouldn’t listen to my conversations.

That’s probably the biggest difference in school. And when I compare my school experience to what I see with my students, I am comparing IHS to Trumansburg High School in a lot of ways.

The biggest difference that I see between being a student at Trumansburg and a student at Ithaca relates back to what I was talking about before about the administrators and the culture of responsibility and understanding of procedures. At Trumansburg High School, there were certainly plenty of kids who misbehaved and whatever, and I wasn’t always perfect either, but there is a basic culture of respect at Trumansburg, where students understand where boundaries are with teachers, with adults, with what they say and do in the hallway in general. And I feel that often at Ithaca, whether because it’s such a big place or because we’re still trying to get some basic procedures in place, that sometimes Ithaca is a little bit of a free-for-all until I bring people into my classroom and establish norms there.

But it takes a significant amount of my effort, almost on a daily basis, to establish a cooperative, kind, respectful, and productive learning environment in my own room. I didn’t have to put so much effort in when I taught at Trumansburg.

11 — You’re very interested in organized sports.

CC: Almost all of the sports I play are in adult leagues. I play on two different adult soccer leagues, one for just men and one that’s coed. I play on volleyball leagues almost year-round now, which is really fun—I’ve gotten into that. I play in a hockey league; I played in the kickball league this summer; I was in the golf league all summer. I also ski and snowboard on my own.

12 — What’s something that you’re proud of?

CC: I’m proud of my decision to switch to teaching. I had what a lot of people would consider a really good job right out of college, working as a loan officer. I made a ton of money. Most people would consider that to be extremely successful. I reevaluated my priorities and thought about what would make me happy, and I went into teaching, which is something that I find more fulfilling, and I think has a more positive impact on the world than what I was doing before.

13 — What’s your best advice to students?

CC: Pretty much consider what you actually want to do. Define success by something other than money. The really cliché quote, “The best things in life aren’t things” is true.

If you define your success based on the kind of car you’re going to drive and the kind of house you’re going to have, and awesome gadgets and how cool your Nikes are going to be—if that’s the way you think about the world, I think unfortunately, you’re going to end up unhappy at some point. And the sooner you come to that realization, the more likely you are to lead a truly fulfilling life.

Favorite high school subjects: Social studies (especially AP Government)
Most admired economics/entrepreneur: Warren Buffett—he understands the economy better than anyone else
Biggest pet peeve: Students lining up at the door
Favorite food: Lasagna and guacamole (not together though)
Song of the moment: “Holes to Heaven” by Jack Johnson

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.