World-traveling teacher returns to Salem

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World-traveling teacher returns to Salem

4:46 p.m. PDT September 29, 2016

Eric MacKnight left South Salem High School about 30 years ago to teach around the world.

At the age of 33, he said, he was escaping the frustration of teaching 150 students per school day.

“It’s just not worth it to me anymore,” MacKnight said in a previous interview. “The worst of it for me is seeing students who really need help and can’t get it.”

So he left for Morocco, determined to teach smaller classes and have a significant impact. He spent three decades teaching in countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Canada, the Netherlands and China.

But due to VISA restriction in China when he would turn 65, MacKnight thought it might be time to come back to the United States.

Now 64, MacKnight has returned to Salem to teach at Abiqua Academy, an independent school for preschool to high school students.

“I love this place. It’s a fantastic school,” he said.

“In most schools, the teaching faculty are on a bell curve,” he said. “There are a few at the bottom, a lot in the middle and a few stars at the top. Here, I can’t find the weak teachers. They are all inspiring.”

Working around the world was rewarding, but came with challenges, he said.

He had no pension and no union. He was completely on his own professionally. He worked at independent, international schools, primarily teaching children of international businessmen, women and diplomats.

MacKnight said he noticed the differences around the world of how different children responded when they read Homer’s “Odyssey.”

In the book, the son of Odysseus calls an assembly in a little village. The son is 20 years old, and makes an impassioned speech, so much so that he breaks down crying, MacKnight said.

The teacher said some students saw this weeping as an embarrassing moment for the son of Odysseus, but others saw it as brave to be so vulnerable.

“It’s a moment when cultures just missed each other,” MacKnight said.

MacKnight experienced multiple cultures through his travels and raised his daughters as they went. He learned to speak French and Chinese and said he is “illiterate in many other languages.”

Part of the allure of working at Abiqua was its small student population and teacher-student ratio, he said. As a high school English and history teacher, MacKnight works with the academy’s nine high school students one-on-one every day.

MacKnight said some schools have a lot of unproductive activities, but at Abiqua, “every hour is well used.”

The academy, founded in 1993, opened its high school last year, starting with only four high school students. Though not a part of the Salem-Keizer School District, the academy partners with the district for various activities.

Abiqua has 183 students.

Coming back to Salem, he said “some things are completely familiar; some things are completely different.” He said when he was younger, Salem seemed “a little boring,” but he now thinks there is a lot more to do. Before he left, Kuebler Boulevard SE in South Salem wasn’t there, he said. It was just open land.

Nonetheless, he was happy to be home.

“I’m so done with travelling,” he said, laughing.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist or on the Web at nataliepate.com

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