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Socks optional, fun mandatory: retiring science teacher reflects on a successful career

Kent City — “He makes class fun, but somehow he’s always on track and makes us learn.” 

These words from seventh-grader Deanna Rodriquez sum up many of the sentiments from Steve McClintock’s students. 

Classmate Laila Mortensen agreed, especially about the fun: ”He is very talkative and he’s funny. He tells stories and jokes.” 

“Well — bad jokes…” another seventh-grader interrupted Laila from across the room. 

McClintock, who is retiring this June, has taught science in Kent City for nearly thirty years. When he first started, he coached middle school track, high school freshman basketball and varsity football. He also filled in as an administrator when the district was going through leadership changes.

It is such a supportive community. The kids are great to work with. There is a reason most teachers that hire on here in Kent City, retire in Kent City.”

— Retiring teacher Steve McClintock

But his main focus has always been on teaching science, he said, especially because of his love for the environment. 

“I grew up tying flies with my dad; I have always fished a lot,” said McClintock, who is thrilled that some of his students have gone on to become fishing guides. “We also hiked, and Dad always pointed out which trees were which. Basically, I have always loved anything to do with hiking, fishing, hunting and camping.”

When he and his wife of 30 years, DeAnn (who started her career as a speech therapist in Kent City schools), were first deciding where they should settle, they explored opportunities on the east side of the state as well as in western Michigan. 

“I drove around and saw the Muskegon River, the Rogue River, crossed Cedar Creek, hiked a bit of the state lands, and I knew this is where I belonged,” said McClintock.

“I have really enjoyed my time here,” he added. “It is such a supportive community. The kids are great to work with. There is a reason most teachers that hire on here in Kent City, retire in Kent City.”

Steve McClintock agreed to shave his head if students met their fundraising goal; seventh-grader Blake Kimek raised the most money so he got to make the first cut

Fundraiser Extraordinaire

Eight years ago, McClintock took over the annual Pennies for Patients drive, which benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and since then has encouraged students to make it a priority. While the fundraiser asks students to collect pennies, they are also allowed to solicit donations from family and friends or work odd jobs to support the cause. 

When he took on leadership for this project, McClintock looked for new ways to encourage students to work harder at getting donations. 

“I remember one year when we topped $3,000, and I could hardly believe it,” he said. “Last year was over $6,000 and this year was $7,400.”

He borrowed an incentive that a nearby school district called ‘Delay the Day’ and rewarded classes with some free time. For every $1,000 raised, they were able to take an hour off of the regular school day for a movie, games or gym time. 

“The more they raised, the more time they got off,” he said. “But once they got started, they learned to appreciate giving as well.” 

Seventh-grader Blake Klimek put his heart into the project because his mother’s brother died of leukemia at age 16. McClintock said he actually remembers when Blake’s uncle was sick, because the illness prevented him from coming to school regularly. 

This year, Blake raised more than $500 by himself to donate to Pennies for Patients. 

“I did lots and lots of hard farm work,” Blake said. “I could have kept the money for myself or bought a video game, but I wanted to raise it for this.”  

As a result, Blake got to participate in the students’ favorite fundraising incentive — something they’re still talking about. McClintock agreed to shave his mane of curly hair if students raised more than last year. Since Blake raised the most money, he got to be the first one to take a swipe with a razor on McClintock’s head. 

Socks Optional

With or without his curly locks, McClintock will be remembered in Kent City for his love of the outdoors, his energetic classrooms, his efforts to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and, oddly enough, his distaste for wearing what most consider “normal” footwear: socks.

When seventh-grader Jaxson Max was asked if there was anything he would change about his science teacher, he said, “Well, he should wear socks.” 

McClintock said that it isn’t the first time he has heard this complaint. 

“I remember when I was teaching high school and would get dressed in a suit for graduation ceremonies, the students would tease me about not wearing socks,” he said. “I guess it has been a running joke for decades in Kent City.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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