By Mary Anne Wetzel ’01
Expert trip chaperone. Winged Lion sports fan. Pumpkin carving enthusiast. Steady voice of wisdom. Activity leader. Unwavering good sport. Mentor. Student advocate. Respected colleague. Spreader of humor. Friend.
Paul Christensen, or Mr. C, as he is affectionately referred to by his students, is all of these things, in addition to being an amazing math teacher. Over his 37 years of teaching at Rowland Hall, Mr. C has helped hundreds of students master equations, functions, derivatives, and integrals. But he also excelled at many of the “other duties as assigned” that took him outside the classroom and wedged him firmly in our hearts.
Perhaps one of the biggest testaments to Mr. C’s greatness is that, as a former student who always struggled in math, I consider him a favorite teacher. I first met Mr. C in 1997 as an extremely nervous 14-year-old prospective student visiting Rowland Hall. I attended his class and remember thinking he seemed like the kind of teacher I wouldn’t be afraid to approach and ask questions. Later, as a Rowland Hall student in his precalculus class, I appreciated the fact that he genuinely wanted all of us to learn and understand the material. Didn’t get the homework answers right? That’s OK. Instead of getting a dismal score on your homework without anything to show for it, you could do the problems again and learn from your mistakes. I know that hundreds of students have benefitted from this philosophy.
Mr. C cares about his students and sees each of them as whole human beings to be supported and celebrated.
Mr. C has an infectious smile, appreciates the importance of fun, and wants those around him to be happy. How many teachers buy dozens and dozens of pumpkins for students to carve as a special treat around Halloween? Not enough…but Mr. C did. Oh, and did you have a sports game or a performance last night? You can bet that Mr. C was there in the stands or in the audience cheering you on, or clapping at curtain call. And the next day, he would make a point of finding you in the hall to tell you what a great job you did. He cares about his students and sees each of them as whole human beings to be supported and celebrated.
He has also achieved black belt chaperone status. Dances, class trips, Interims, field trips…you name it, he’s done it, he’s seen it, and he has the stories to prove it. He’s unflappable, even-keeled, and never panics under pressure. Believe me, there’s no one you would rather have by your side if you sprain your ankle in the middle of the desert and have to go to the Moab ER. I know this because it happened to me. Mr. C was the teacher and responsible adult every student needs in moments like those. I felt safe and taken care of, and we even shared a few jokes as I was getting x-rays. Then he took me to McDonald’s because the man knows about the healing power of french fries and fountain Coke.
In addition to appreciating Mr. C as a teacher, I have also had the privilege of knowing him as a colleague. He joined the Rowland Hall faculty in 1984, so he has mentored countless new folks who have joined our community over the years. I came back to Rowland Hall in 2006 and was able to observe him in a new light. Paul is a veteran faculty member who might not be the first to speak during faculty meeting, but when he does, people listen. He often brings institutional knowledge, context, or deeper considerations to important conversations. It is evident that working together as a team and valuing the ideas and opinions of others are important to him—while always keeping in mind the common goal of doing what is best for students. Paul is flexible and adaptable and can handle any curveball thrown his way, seemingly without skipping a beat. He also cares for the adults at Rowland Hall with the same passion and kindness he gives his students. And I probably should have guessed this, but it turns out being on a class trip with Mr. C as a fellow chaperone might be even more fun than being on a trip with him as a student. He is in his element leading kids on hikes, pitching in to make meals or clean up dishes, and teaching everyone some really fun games while sitting around the fire. Even when the group is tired at the end of the trip, Mr. C’s positive attitude and humor brings the mood up every time.
Thank you for seeing the potential and believing in young people and all they are capable of.
It’s hard to imagine the Upper School without Mr. C, but we are so excited for him to spend time doing the other things he enjoys—being a husband to Pat, a father to his three adult children, a grandfather, a sports fan, a lover of the outdoors, and a seeker of new adventures. Thank you, Paul—Mr. C.—for your dedication to teaching in all its forms. Thank you for forming important relationships with colleagues, parents, and students. Thank you for seeing the potential and believing in young people and all they are capable of. And most of all, thanks for the wonderful memories you have created with all of us at Rowland Hall.
Banner photo: Paul, far right, ziplining with students at Interim 2021.