By James Grob, firstname.lastname@example.org
For 41 of his 54 years on the planet, Rick Gabel has been a Comet.
And for all but a couple years of his adult life, he’s been an educator.
“I’ve had three great jobs in this district. It’s been a real treat,” Gabel said. “Charles City has afforded me the most important thing that I’ve ever had, and that’s the ability to learn. And I’m learning up to this day.”
Gabel, the principal at Charles City Middle School, grew up on the family farm of Richard and Phyllis Gabel just west of town, graduated from Charles City High School in 1982 and started teaching here in 1998.
A little over a week ago, he announced to the faculty and staff that he would retire at the end of the school year.
“It’s time to look for something with a little different pace to it,” Gable said. “Being the principal of a school is a major job, there are a lot of things to be doing. I’m looking forward to other opportunities, but I’m sure going to miss the people that we have here.”
Gabel said that “retire” is an “awful soft word.” He intends to continue working, and intends to remain in education. He said he will be looking into working with at-risk students, and also said he would love the opportunity to work with the types of students in a program like Charles City’s Iowa Big North.
Whatever he ends up doing, he said, he hopes to be working with a classroom of young people, watching them progress.
“I have ties here. I’ve lived and worked as a Comet,” he said. “I would love to be working here a few more years, but truth be told, I have my family in Cedar Falls. That’s where we’re at.”
Gabel and his wife, Danene, have three adult sons — all Charles City High School grads — and grandchildren in the Cedar Falls area. Since 2014, he’s been commuting to Charles City from Cedar Falls, where Danene grew up and currently works in nursing.
“I’ve joked that for the first 25 years of our marriage she did most of the commuting, and for the next 25 years, I can do the commuting. I probably won’t last 25 more years in the workforce, though,” he laughed.
Gabel said he is confident he is leaving the district in good hands.
“I love the direction that the school district is going,” he said. “I’m excited to see the next person they get in here, who’s going to get to be a superstar, and help the district move forward.”
Gabel’s education experience adds up to 15 years of teaching and 14 years in administration. Including his coaching, he has more than 30 years of working with kids.
Upon graduating from CCHS, Gabel attended Indian Hills Community College in Centerville, then graduated from Northern Iowa in 1987. He added one year of post-graduate work to broaden his teaching certification while working as a substitute teacher in the area, as well as helping his father with chores on the farm.
“Substitute teaching was a good learning experience,” he said. “If you’re in several different teacher’s shoes throughout the course of time, you can see what works and what doesn’t, and kind of learn what it takes to be a good teacher.”
He started teaching full-time in the Riceville school district, where he worked from 1988-98. He taught social studies, geography, history and consumer economics — and coached football and baseball.
He then took a hiatus from education, working in the private sector in Tampa, Florida, for just under two years.
“I had the opportunity to try something different, outside of education,” Gabel said. “I learned a lot about life, our family and our values.”
During that time, he worked for an electronics company, a tobacco manufacturer and a metal fabrication company. He said it didn’t take him long to realize he wanted to be back in education.
“It’s a great profession,” he said. “When I was working outside of education, I found that I was working around some pretty miserable people.”
Gabel moved back to Charles City in late 1999, and secured a job teaching social studies, history and government at CCHS, and he also coached baseball and football. He then earned his master’s degree in administration from Iowa State, and became associate principal and co-principal at the high school for seven years. Since 2013, he has been the middle school principal.
“The biggest kick I’ve gotten, the most positive thing, is seeing students grow year to year,” he said. “To see a student improve — watch a student move on — to see a struggling student learn that school is not such a bad place. That’s very gratifying to me.”
Gabel said the same is true with teachers.
“Being able to see teachers grow, and being sure our teachers have an opportunity for professional development and growth, that’s been super-gratifying.” he said. “In my heart, I believe that educators are the truest human beings that we have.”
Gabel pointed to a recent example — last week, the district had six straight days off of school, including the weekend, due to the winter weather.
“We had teachers who were beside themselves, they were concerned about the kids,” he said. “They know that the school is a very essential part of each student’s life, and they were worried about the students getting fed, or having the communication they need at home.”
Gabel said that is the widespread thought and feeling now among teachers, and that wasn’t necessarily the case even seven or eight years ago.
“That’s really where we’re going in this district — that family mentality — teachers supporting each other and supporting students,” he said.
“Kids are kids, they’ve always needed relationships with adults — that’s something that will never change,” he said. “You’re never going to get students to engage and be productive if you don’t know something about them, and know how to motivate and help them.”
He said that a young person interested in teaching should come into the job ready to work hard.
“It’s a noble profession — but don’t have delusions of grandeur. There is a lot of work,” he said. “There is a lot of time that needs to be put in to crafting and perfecting your trade. Some people have the knack to have those interpersonal skills with students and other staff members. You have to want it, you have to be open to coaching and mentoring.”
He said that people in education need all the support available to them, and that isn’t likely to change, no matter how much experience a teacher has.
“If I get back in the classroom and teach someplace, the first thing I’m going to do is find somebody to coach me,” he said.