Constable: Teacher's career near end, but education not stopping
The world is a cozy little place for Brett Weiss, a Bartlett High School social studies teacher who will take part in the "Retirement Reception" Tuesday after school in the school auditorium. Uncomfortable with the concept of retirement, the 65-year-old Naperville resident peruses his classroom collection of diverse quotations from people such as Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein and Maya Angelou, and selects this bit of wisdom from the great Louis Armstrong: "Musicians don't retire; they stop when there's no more music in them."
Underneath that quote, Weiss has written, "And I have a lot more music in me."
A book Weiss had in him just was published. Titled "Just Give Them a Hug … and the Rest Will Be Easy" after advice Weiss took to heart, the book explains how a visit to the small, poor village of Dago, Kenya, during the summer of 2009 changed Weiss' life, and, as a result, improved the lives of many others.
Having been treated successfully for thyroid cancer, the husband and father of two was looking for a worthy worldwide endeavor when he signed up with Village Volunteers, a not-for-profit charity that does work in rural Kenya. Working with school kids in the dirt-poor village of 3,000 people with no electricity or modern plumbing, Weiss remembers a boy anguished because his pen ran out of ink. Weiss, of course, gave his pen to the boy, and the child wept tears of joy for the opportunity to continue his schoolwork.
That was a life-changing moment for the teacher, who decided that he needed to do more than give a pen. He raised money for shoes, backpacks, water filters and even a dairy cow, which the villagers named Bartlett.
But Weiss felt the need to do more.
In 2011, he started the Bernard and Elsie Weiss Scholarship Fund, named after his late parents, which raises funds to send poor children from Dago to high school. That first year, the charity paid for a boy named Victor to attend school. The investment paid off, as Victor will graduate high school this December and will start college in January, Weiss says.
"We've sent 32 kids to high school and four to university," Weiss says, before quickly adding, "but there's a lot more we can do."
A week after he finishes his last day with Elgin Area Unit District U-46, Weiss will be back in Kenya for the fifth time.
"When I started this, I didn't know where it was going to go," he says, talking about the charity but using a description that fits his life. A Chicago kid who graduated from Northern Illinois University in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in political science and economics, Weiss went on to get a master's degree in education, with a specialty in urban teaching, from Governor's State University. He and his wife, Chris, now a retired third-grade teacher, both started teaching careers, until financial decisions led him to a successful 20-year career in software sales.
He returned to the classroom in 2009, teaching international relations, U.S. history and economics.
"What is it that makes this econ teacher much more than just an econ teacher?" reads an online comment from a former student, who now leads charitable causes on her college campus. "He doesn't teach from the textbook; he teaches from the heart."
For more information on his charity, visit hopefordago.org. To buy his book, visit iuniverse.com/bookstore. Weiss, who has been married for 35 years, says he'll spend time with his daughter, Amber, his son, Gabe, and Gabe's wife, Sara, and his 1-year-old grandson, Collin, but is looking to write the next chapter in his life.
"When August comes and I'm not here (in his classroom), that will be really sad," Weiss says. "But I'm going to head out and do some different things. Who knows what that is? But believe me, I'll be getting up and doing something every day."