Math instructor Bruce Turkal retires

4 years ago

Mechanical engineer. Fireman. Riverboat worker.
   Each is a job Bruce Turkal has held at sometime during his life. Each position has offered him a different adventure.
   For the past 31 years, Turkal has been a teacher, a profession that he did not expect to make his career but one that he says has been the most exciting in many ways. The last 20 of those years have been spent at ASMSA. With the death of his mother last year and his daughter’s high school graduation this year, he thought it was time to consider retirement. Turkal decided it was time for a new adventure, so he retired at the end of the school year in May.
   “I was an adventurer when I was young,” Turkal said. “So I’m getting that adventurer blood back, and I’m starting to think I need to do some things I always wanted to do.”
   Turkal, 64, became a teacher in 1983 after serving as a substitute teacher for a week for a friend the year before. He didn’t have any intentions on making teaching his career, but wanted to do it for a year just for the experience. He found that teaching had something in common with being a fireman and a riverboat worker — it was exciting.
   “I got hooked on teaching; I just loved it,” Turkal said. “It’s one of those jobs where I actually enjoyed going to work. My previous jobs, engineering and all, I felt like I got up in the morning going ‘Oh, I have to go to work.’ I didn’t look forward to it. That [first] year I taught, it really was an adventure I thought was exciting. I enjoyed it. That one year, I fell in love with teaching.”
   He decided to get certified in math and physics and took a job at Bigelow High School in Perry County. He spent 10 years at the school transforming the math program. He faced the challenge of developing a math program at a school where teaching math was not a high priority, he said. By the time he left, the school was producing some top-level students who helped the school win a few math competitions
   Turkal spent two years at Greenland while his former wife taught at the University of Arkansas. When his wife returned to the University of Central Arkansas, they moved back to Conway and he returned to Bigelow. Turkal joined the ASMSA staff for the 1994-95 school year, the second year ASMSA was open.
   He spent two years commuting from Conway, sometimes spending nights in a spare room on the sixth floor of the former Residential Life Building. He said there were numerous times he’d wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. and have to stop kickboxing tournaments that were taking place.
   Once his daughter Claire was born, he knew he couldn’t keep commuting. Eventually the family moved to the Hot Springs area.
Family time
   Sixteen years later, Claire would end up at ASMSA as well — as a student. Claire graduated in May as member of the Class of 2014, ASMSA’s 20th graduating class. Considering the size of the faculty and the school’s curriculum, it’s not surprising she became one of his students.
   He said he may have acted a little differently when he first saw her in his class. He said there may have been stories from his other careers or other experiences that he would share in other classes that he held back in her class. One advantage was that he had the opportunity to interact with her every day.
   For Claire, having her father as a member of the faculty had some advantages. Many of the teachers and the other students already knew her when she enrolled. She also was very familiar with the academic building, having spent lots of time at the school with her father as she grew up. 
   She described ASMSA as “more like home to me than school.” That familiarity and having her father on campus played a positive role in her decision to attend ASMSA.
   “If I had lived two hours away and not have had anyone here, I probably wouldn’t have come. It was good to have him right here,” she said.
   Claire said she enjoyed her father’s teaching style and looked up to him as a teacher. She said he is energetic and never stops moving in the classroom. She said he was easy to learn from and that he always made sure students understood not only how to do something but why they were doing it. “He’ll have a real-world answer and why it applies and why you should know it,” she said.
   Turkal said how a teacher approaches the class, his energy and his interaction with the students is still the most critical aspect of a classroom.
   “I’ve always valued myself as a high-energy, pretty intense teacher,” he said. “I think that’s been my strong point. So I think a big part of the teaching process is finding more than one way of presenting the material so the kids can understand it. The bread and butter of teaching is going to be the style of the teacher in the classroom.”
Noted career
   Turkal is known to tell his students stories about his life. Some of the most popular are about his two years as a riverboat worker on the Mississippi River or the years he spent during his 20s as a fireman.
   He also is known to pull out his guitar to play and sing to help break up the monotony of long classes.
   Music has long been a big part of his life, he said. He learned to play guitar while in college. He helped start DolphinStock, the annual student music show, 20 years ago and still performs at least one set with other faculty members.
   His start in teaching can somewhat be traced back to his love of music. His first job after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in engineering was with a firm in Denver. He was eventually transferred from Colorado to Montana, and he decided he wanted to do something that would allow him more free time.
   While working as an engineer, he met some friends through music — the riverboat captains. While working for them, he met a friend from Conway with whom he would share an apartment during his time off from his riverboat job. That friend was the teacher he would eventually serve as a substitute for at Bigelow.
   Turkal passed his love of music to his daughter, as well. Claire said she doesn’t remember a time when her father did not play guitar.
   Claire said she started singing when she was little, but it was because of her father that she started playing the guitar during her preteens. This past year, she won the Garland County’s Got Talent student contest using her guitar and singing talents.
   Turkal also loves to play tennis and go sailing. He said many of the men his age in Hot Springs Village, where he lives, have switched to playing doubles, but he plans to play singles until he’s 80.
   He also served as the tennis coach for the boys and girls teams when ASMSA had its own athletic teams. His boys teams won the 7AAA Conference titles in 2004 and 2005 while the girls team was conference runner-up in 2005.
   As for sailing, he plans to visit his brother in Florida this summer and sail in the Gulf of Mexico. He has sailed lakes in Colorado and Arkansas for more than 35 years and is looking forward to a new challenge of sailing in the gulf.
   He said he is considering moving to Florida full-time, which would give him more opportunities to take his sailboat out on the water. Turkal said he also may consider going back into teaching.
   For now, Turkal plans to take it easy and spend at least a couple of years traveling and “do some interesting things.” He said he’s going to miss the people at ASMSA — both his coworkers and the students.
   “I think this was the perfect working environment for me the last 20 years,” he said. “I’ve been an extremely lucky individual; this has been an incredible experience for me.
   “One big thing I’ve loved about teaching here is that you have the time to be really creative and to develop your own classes. We could create courses that we find interesting and that students want.”

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