An avid skier, he badly wanted to join the UVM ski team, which had won the NCAA championships two years in a row. But Smith had not been recruited to the team.
“I went to the ski team director’s office in the fall, introduced myself, and said that I’d really like to join the team.” The director was skeptical, but he told Smith what he’d have to do.
“It was the first time in my life I had to actually work for something I wanted,” Smith says. “School and athletics had always come pretty easily. I kept telling myself if I could outwork everyone on the team—be the fastest, the strongest—I’d have a good chance.”
The team had ten slots and nine were already filled. Ten other aspirants, besides Smith, were vying for that last spot. On the day the roster was due to be posted, Smith went straight to the director’s door and saw that he’d made it. He was number ten.
“The coach congratulated me but said they’d picked me not because of my racing results, but because of how hard I worked for it. They wanted that [attitude] on the team,” he recalls.
“It convinced me there is very little we as human beings can’t accomplish if we put our minds to it. If we believe in it. If we can will it with every ounce of our being, every molecule in our body.”
Five years and two more NCAA championships later, Smith graduated, having taken a lower course load to be able to train and compete. Simultaneously, Gould was starting to invest in the competitive skiing program
and Smith was invited to apply as ski coach. He’d always liked working with kids at summer camp jobs and volunteer programs so he decided to take the job and take some time to figure out what to do with his life.
But he had one stipulation: He also wanted to teach.
“I got to Gould in the fall and was unsettled to find that I didn’t have any classes assigned. I went to talk to [then Head of School] Bill Clough and [then Assistant Head of School] Dutch Dresser and they told me I’d be gone too much of the winter. But I really wanted to teach. So they gave me two sections of 10th-grade history
, enough to get my feet wet. The students I had those first two years can probably attest to the fact that I was a better coach than I was a classroom teacher.”
Smith now sees he was naïve to imagine he could step into a teaching role without the life experience to understand how to create connections with students and how to make the course material relevant. Also, as predicted, his coaching schedule posed obstacles. To address the problem, he and former English teacher Lucia Owen co-taught an elective they called “The Idea of Religion” that drew on Smith’s college studies and allowed him to observe and learn from a master teacher.
“We taught that course for three years and had so much fun,” Smith says. “It helped me become a better educator, and I’m thankful.”
Smith also learned a valuable lesson from former history teacher Paul McGuire.
“When I came back as a faculty member,” Smith recalls, “Paul dug up some old correspondence between Gould and my family about some trouble I’d been having as a student. He said, ‘I usually burn these things but I want you to have them. They serve as a reminder that we are all works in progress—every one of us, every day of our lives.’”