BROCKPORT, N.Y. (WROC) — Christopher Albrecht has been teaching in Brockport for nearly 25 years, starting as a fifth grade teacher, before becoming a fourth grade teacher. And recently, he’s been on a hot streak.
In 2018, he was named the New York State Teacher of the Year, four years after he received a Golden Apple from News 8. In 2019, he was Inductee to the National Teachers Hall of Fame in Kansas.
Now, he has just released his second book called “The Rediscovery of Hope and Purpose,” which has climbing multiple sales charts, and is being called “a best seller.” His previous book, “Unconventionally Successful,” also spent time climbing the charts when it was released in 2020.
During a launch event for “The Rediscovery of Hope and Purpose,” Albrecht was joined by a Dr. Jacob Cianci-Gaskill Ph.D., who was Albrecht’s student for two years from 2001 to 2003. The American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, also spoke at the event.
The new book contains a series of interviews, along with Albrecht’s own philosophies, that include “the final homesteader who resides in Alaska and gained free land in the 1970s before the 1862 Act was repealed to Harvard President, Dr. Lawrence Bacow,” to renowned children’s author Beverly Cleary.
Here’s our 1-on-1 with Christopher Albrecht.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
We’ll get to the book shortly, but I have to ask… You’re spending a summer working as a park ranger in Maine.
I I’m living the life up here in Maine this summer as a park ranger. I grew up, (and) I didn’t know anything about the national parks growing up in Rochester. You know, we’re not near any national parks other than Seneca Falls. So really national parks were not part of my life. I was brought up in the Adirondacks — that was the family vacation spot — but a road trip and college showed me a couple of national parks.
And then as we had children, my wife — not really a national parks person — but I am. I started taking them and I’m a big back country hiker. So I started teaching, especially my daughter and my youngest son, how to backpack and survive in the back country for a week at a time. And then now that they’re grown up and onto a college and beyond, I don’t have anybody to hike with. So I decided I’d flip sides and give the national park ranger a job.
I did it last summer out at homestead national monument in Nebraska. And here I am up in Calais, Maine at St. Croix Island International Historic Park, telling the story (of) the first French settlement is 1604 this summer…
It’s something that as I get closer… I’ve been teaching for 27 years. I don’t want to stop teaching, but maybe in the classroom I’ll change. My classroom will become the national parks eventually.
Obviously with all these awards you’ve received, no teacher does this for the awards, but what about your teaching style is different?
I don’t think I’m much different than most teachers. Almost every teacher I work with are — and you would probably expect it that response — absolutely wonderful human beings. They’re selfless. They give of themselves constantly; longer hours, they come in early, they stay late. They go to these kids’ baseball games and dance recitals and soccer games. And that’s not unique to me.
I put in a lot of time, I teach with a lot of passion, and kindness and love. I feel like I have good relationships with parents, but I just happened to be fortunate that some people have recognized me. I’ve had a great administrator for quite a few years and at the Hills school
I happened to be in a great situation. My mom’s no longer alive, but I had two loving parents growing up. We’ve got a great relationship with my wife. So all the things are in place to be a great teacher. I’ve just been fortunate that with these awards, (but the internal) awards that the greatest award.
I’ll give you an example from yesterday, swearing at a junior ranger up here at the national park… Seeing their face light up as I hand them a patch after they work on his packet, and learning about the first French settlement to me, that that’s really what it’s all about: is just seeing the joy in the kids and all that stuff.
The books… I will say that I work long hours, writing a book is not an easy thing. I’ve done it twice now. And it’s a challenge, but I feel that love of writing inside of me. So I would encourage anybody watching this right now. If you, if you have a passion to do something, it doesn’t have to be in your workplace. It can be in your own personal time. I write it in my own personal time. I visit the national parks and my own personal time. And that’s really what my life has been sure. I was the New York state teacher of the year in 2018.
And I started recognizing a really unique situation:
I was meeting a lot of amazing people across the country that I normally would not have met. So I thought I’m going to start carrying a recorder, started asking every single person I meet, who is your favorite teacher? Ended up doing 600 interviews that year and the book materialized from that.
The guiding idea behind your new book is “investigative social philosophy.” What is that and how does it drive the book?
I can’t, as one person have the answer; just like in a school, one teacher can’t teach alone. We rely on each other. We rely on families, this topic of gaining purpose. I had to seek out people that were of different backgrounds to come together. And some of the stuff in the book, I don’t totally agree with. Some of the stuff in the book was different than I thought people would answer, but I had to put it in verbatim. So there are interviews in there, word for word, exactly the same as people said. So it’s a collective of ideas.
It’s an investigation similar to what you do in reporting. And then it is a social challenge that we have is rediscovering hope and purpose in ourselves. And it is a philosophy because a philosophy is something that can be open to conjecture to different people’s ideas and viewpoints. So I tried to represent that in the book.
The book has my own viewpoints in it, and it’s catalyzed by some narratives… But really the idea is the 10 people that I interviewed (are) just amazing people from different prospects.
And it actually applies to the first book as well. I just didn’t realize it at the time. Investigative social philosophy is simply that the book is called “The Rediscovery of Hope and Purpose.” And one of the things that I noticed as a teacher is the fact that one of the, or two things that our world is really hungry for right now:
People really want to know what their purpose in this world is. The pandemic is obviously magnified that, but this existed prior to the pandemic, and having hope that tomorrow will be better than today, or at least if today was great, tomorrow is going to be great.
And I feel that it’s within everybody to have hope and purpose, but not everybody’s just recognizing it within themselves.
It strikes me that you’re writing this book as maybe your purpose is changing, as you might be moving from teaching in a classroom, to teaching about historical parks. Is there anything you learned from doing this process?
What I will say it confirmed something for me, it’s something I’ve always known. We tend to gravitate as human beings. We tend to gravitate towards the negative, I think, especially in the media and it’s not the nature of people, but that makes us feel like sometimes that the world is really coming apart.
And especially this past year, we were in a challenging situation. There’s no doubt about that. But the world, there were a lot of good things going on as well. So the thing that this book did for me personally, was reconfirmed the fact that we really do live in a great world, and there’s a lot of great opportunities out there, a lot of great opportunities for personal growth and to serve others.
It’s not just one person, but a lot of people have very good hearts. 1% or 2% of the negativity in the world is represented by what we see (all the time) and not really the good things that are going on in the world. They don’t always get in that public light. And this book helps bring that out.
It’s a very uplifting book and it reconfirmed to me that really, even though you watch the news sometimes, or you hear different things, or you see different people that are a little down on things… It’s really actually a wonderful time to be alive and a wonderful opportunity in this world to serve and do good.
Of all the interviews in the book, you interviewed Beverly Cleary, the author of so many iconic children’s book, when she was 104. It was her last interview before she died. What was that like?
It’s chapter 10 in the book. What I wrote to relate this to, I had a really short Italian grandmother and she would put sauce on the stove… and she would cook her own sauce. It wasn’t Ragu or Prego. It was, it was mom’s sauce. And she would boil it down to the essence of what that sauce and the flavor (is).
I think with Beverly clearly she was so accomplished and she was living in Berkeley, California. So she was experiencing a very cultural time, and exploratory time. And she had that to reflect on, but what she also had was age wisdom.
So after 104 years, and that’s really what does being successful and growing to what we would consider an extreme old age, tell us about hope and purpose.
She didn’t have a lot to say about hope and purpose, but I had a really interesting discovery. She said little snippets of things and her snippets, every word had meaning in what she was saying. She had boiled it down to her own beautiful sauce.
But what was interesting was that it was during the pandemic that I interviewed her and she’s in Carmel, California, and I’m in Rochester, New York. So it was over the phone. When you talk to a person that’s 104 years old, there’s a moment. Well, there’s a moment there, there can be second lapses and no sound, where you don’t have any discussion at all. And at times I was worried that, you know, I didn’t know her very well at all.
So I didn’t know if she had fallen asleep if she was done with the interview, you know, whatever. I went back later with my son’s headphones and listened to the interview very, very carefully. She was giggling in between every single thing she said she was, she was laughing literally laughing to herself about her memories. And I think the thing that I took from her interview that that was very, very unique is joy and laughter play a huge role in growing old, being, um, being a person of having hope about a positive view of the future. And, um, so I would say something that I took away personally, and hopefully I conveyed this in the book is Beverly Cleary truly was a happy person, a joyful person, a giggly person.
It is this very special thing… So the opportunity to spend some time on the phone with, with Mrs. Cleary and hear about her life as a library and as an author, wonderful and truly special moment. I’ll never forget because it was like… I was a big time Yankees fan growing up. And I can’t imagine like hitting a single in Yankee Stadium and then standing at first base with Don Mattingly. I related it a lot as a teacher right there.
“I’m talking to Beverly Cleary.”
This is a really, really great moment. So I loved it. It was a treat.
Here’s the start of the “big three” questions. What about Rochester made it so helpful and formative for what you do?
I think Rochester is a gold mine waiting to be mined. I think there are so many great people. The people in Rochester are just wonderful. Anybody that’s from Upstate New York know what a treasure we have here. And Rochester has got such a great diversity to it:
Whether it’s the suburbs or the city itself, there’s so much to offer… a tremendous amount of colleges and opportunities for people. Uh, the jobs are starting to come back to the area.
I was a person looking from the outside, I would say jump on Rochester right now because Rochester is about to become a boom town. I really do feel that way. I’m passionate about it. That’s why we moved. Originally I started teaching in West Virginia. We moved back here because of Rochester. I couldn’t think of a greater place to raise my kids, teach and spend time. People here are wonderful.
You’ve accomplished so much, especially within the last five years, but what is the next feather in your cap?
My daughter’s wedding. She’s getting married in September and she’s my only daughter. So surviving a wedding would be my next major accomplishment.
I’ve asked that question a lot, but that might be my favorite answer. Finally, any advice for aspiring teachers or writers?
Be passionate about what you’re doing. Spend time with families and read, read, read, read, be a model for your students. So be a reader yourself as a teacher.
So parents read to your kids, kids read teachers spend time at school reading with the kids. I think reading is the foundation for almost everything we do in this world. And it opens up the mind to creative thought, new ideas, new places to go. Albert Einstein said that our creativity is more important than knowledge. Knowledge will take you from point a to point B, but creativity will take you everywhere. Be creative, explore new things, and don’t be afraid to unlock possibilities in your life.