03 Jun The Man Who Made Science Fun
Let’s rewind a few years back, geez… I guess around 15 of them. You’d find me sitting in a Toledo High School classroom doing my best to pay attention, trying not to joke around with my friends in the surrounding desks too much (usually unsuccessfully), and hoping for respectable grades. It’s safe to say there were only a couple periods in the school day that most kids actually enjoy: lunch, P.E., and maybe art. The list is typically a very short one, that’s for sure. Fortunately, for students who attended Toledo High for roughly the last 30 years, that list was probably a little longer, and I believe (along with many other old classmates I keep in contact with) that can largely be attributed to the teacher you see in these images, Chuck Caley (or as we students knew him – Mr. Caley). Chuck taught a countless number of minds in the areas of geometry, chemistry, and physics over the years. But all things have a beginning and an end, and Mr. Caley is finally hanging up the lab coat, tucking away the protractor, and locking up the chemicals for the last time at the end of this school year. Yes, he is retiring.
I received the call from Sally, Chuck’s wife, a couple weeks ago. She informed me that he was indeed going to retire, and wanted to make arrangements for me to come down and photograph Chuck at the high school before the year was over. I was more than happy to accept the task. Hanging up the phone, I couldn’t help but feel I just voluntarily signed myself up for another physics final. Half a lifetime ago for myself, I was sitting in Mr. Caley’s classroom, straining my noodle to successfully answer complex questions involving velocities, masses, and…. other… things I just don’t remember any more (sorry, Chuck). I don’t quite remember all the numbers, but I can tell you that his classes changed the way I view the world, and I think that is pretty darn cool. Even after years go by and the formulas that were drilled into my head fade, I still have a better perspective of the world and how I interact with the it and why. Action-Reaction. And I would never have even gotten to that greater step of appreciation and understanding of science if it weren’t for Mr. Caley’s teaching style and his passion for everything that he taught. He made things fun and hands-on; his classes had a great balance of being challenging and interesting. You could pass, fail, love, or hate his class, but no student could ever say it wasn’t interesting. We regularly did experiments well beyond what sat in the textbooks. Students, who consciously try to hate the whole school experience, well… that was all forgotten very quickly when they were out doing experiments, testing theories, and having fun while learning in his class. He even made studying for upcoming tests fun with custom-built Jeopardy games. Classmates would split into teams and compete as Mr. Caley played “the host” and fed us fun and challenging questions to better prepare us. How cool is it that students actually get excited walking into a physics class to study for a test?!
It is clear how much Chuck has influenced the army of students who have sat in his classroom over the years. I posted a behind-the-scenes photo on Facebook that I snapped with my phone while I was on location conducting the shoot. Very quickly the photo amassed over 50 likes and a slew of comments from old students naming some of their memories in his class. This is why I felt like I was walking into another physics final. I felt the pressure knowing I had the task of properly photographing Chuck in a way so the thousands of past students would clearly recognize him as the man who stood in front of them, melting their minds on a daily basis. To capture him in a series of photos, that when viewed, would take students back in time (and hopefully with a smile on their face). These photos are a celebration of a brilliant man’s teaching career, and I wanted to nail it.
Chuck’s love for teaching science didn’t stop when the final bell rang, nope. He led the after school ‘science team’ program. It was a program for students to further develop within the fields of science and compete against other schools, just like any other sport program. Toledo High was a dominate force in the science team competitions throughout the 23 years Mr. Caley led the program; evident by the impressive collection of championship trophies. You could almost make a complete chess set using all of those trophies for an oversized game. We made sure to snag a couple shots of him with this array of accomplishments.
Walking into Chuck’s room 15 years later, I knew I definitely wanted to talk him into doing an explosive experiment or two. Something that would translate into a strong photo visual. That is one thing I will always remember about his classes, and I’m sure all of the other past students will as well – the experiments. We quickly mocked up a lab table, dressed Mr. Caley in lab gear, and before you know it we were making 3-foot wide fireballs. Literal fireballs. I have to hand it to the man for delivering a very cool visual, as well as standing so close to the explosion. I was about 6 feet away with my face tucked behind my camera and I felt a major wave of heat from it, but Chuck was posed only 2-3 feet from it. The things you do for an awesome photo. We did have a facility employee poke their head into the room, “so this is where that burning smell is coming from. So there isn’t a fire then?” We were burning Gummi Bears in the photo you see with the columns of smoke. Potassium Chlorate + Gummi Bear = smoke and a light show. We did two different experiment setups and they are some of my favorite photos I’ve made to this day.
Another prominent theme in Mr. Caley’s classes were all of the equations and formulas. So many numbers, in fact, that each student had a notebook dedicated to cataloging all of the formulas and example sketches. I wonder how many pencils were worn down to the eraser in that classroom. On second thought, I bet the erasers ran out long before the pencils did with all that number crunching. I asked Chuck to fill the chalkboard with formulas and sketches that are covered in class. Before I had another light setup, he had the whole board covered. This gave us a great backdrop for a portrait of Mr. Science, framing him within all of those formulas that we had a love/hate relationship with. He is one of those guys you can tell is always thinking, and surely on a couple levels beyond what is floating around up in my head. It wouldn’t surprise me if we were sitting in a silent room that I might hear a faint buzzing emanating from Chuck’s head, the sound of an over-clocked brain running at maximum capacity.
It really was a great afternoon of picture making and catching up with my favorite high school teacher. I’m so glad I got the opportunity to create these photos and relive the high schools days, even it if was just for a few hours. Congrats on the awesome teaching career, Mr. Caley. You can rest easy knowing you influenced and excelled so many minds that sat in your classroom. Your classes continue to make an impact in my life. Almost every time I see a semi truck speeding along next to me on the freeway I think to myself, “now that thing is packing some serious momentum.” It’s thanks to you I have such a strong interest in science, and why I still stay up late and watch science specials on Netflix.
If you were lucky enough to have Chuck as a teacher, please leave a comment below or on the link to this article on Facebook and share one of your favorite memories from his classroom.