“Whenever Mr. Kordenbrock comes into the office with a certain smile on his face, everyone in the department just goes, ‘ok, here we go, grab a chair everybody’ and we’ll sit down and he’ll just start. It’s fun to listen to and fun to watch,” CHS social studies department chair Josh Meyers said.
Although Richard Kordenbrock is now one of the most respected history teachers in CHS, 11 years ago, he wasn’t even at Clayton.
Students who do not know his past might fail to realize that Kordenbrock has only been teaching for 15 years in total. Before teaching, Kordenbrock was a civil lawyer from the University of Missouri School of Law.
“I did all of my [law] career in the field of injury for both sides. For companies and for doctors who were being sued, as well as representing people who claimed injuries.” Kordenbrock said. “There was a lot of it that I really liked and enjoyed, and it was a great career.”
In fact, Kordenbrock was slightly hesitant to end his career as a lawyer.
“I did not get bored of being a lawyer. It is a difficult profession: stressful work, long hours, demanding clients, no matter who you are representing,” he said. “[But] I felt like I had done it enough and I do not need to do it until my dying day.”
And thus Kordenbrock looked into teaching, where he can speak, but in a completely different way.
As a liberal arts major, graduated with an A.B in political science, Kordenbrock decided to pursue teaching history, as history has close ties to politics. Before he joined Clayton, Kordenbrock taught at Ritenour high school for five years. “I student taught there for a semester, the second semester I sub for all the schools around,” he said. “and I finished the year being a long term sub for ritenour they offered me a job and I was really pleased to take it.”
After four years of teaching at Ritenour High School, Kordenbrock decided to move to Clayton.
“I knew of Clayton High School and its reputation long before I was a teacher here,” Kordenbrock said. “And so when I felt like I was ready to move to a new school, I looked towards Clayton. My wife also went to CHS and is a graduate from [Clayton].”
A job opening for history teacher brought him to Clayton and he has been teaching the World/U.S. History II class, a required sophomore class in CHS, ever since he arrived. But 10 years ago, Kordenbrock suggested starting the African American history class. “African American history is what I am most passionate about,” Kordenbrock said. “I grew up in a Jim Crow era, and I am very aware of race in American society, thus I found it a very fascinating topic.”
Although he brought more diversity into CHS’ history curriculum, Kordenbrock’s teaching style and mindset have not always been appreciated by students in his class. Many students claim that his lectures can get boring as Kordenbrock has the ability to talk through the whole 47 minutes of class. In response, Kordenbrock said, “Bottom line is, it is the way I was taught, it is the way I learned, it is the way I am most comfortable with.”
As a teaching colleague, Meyers supports the lecture method as well.
“What makes lecturing so powerful is stories and anecdotes, which I think Mr. Kordenbrock excels in. He brings in personal experiences and he makes connections to what’s been happening today and in the past,” Meyers said. “And that can make for an extremely effective teaching style.”
CHS junior Maddy Bale also enjoys Kordenbrock’s personal anecdotes. One of her fondest memories was when he told the class a story from his childhood which helped her deepen the understanding of the concepts he was teaching.
“I remember one of the most interesting moments I had in history was when he was talking to me about how he was walking home from school one day and he remembers looking up at the sky and looking for a nuclear bomb,” Bale said. “He had that fear that that could happen to him, and to me that made the Cold War seem so much more real. He put [the Cold War] into a perspective for me that a history textbook just cannot give you.”
Kordenbrock has developed a reputation for assigning significant amounts of homework. However, some students like Bale supports Kordenbrock’s intent and method. “I think history is different from other subjects such as math and science, where you can truly understand the material without doing homework,” she said, “but history is different in the sense that you have to do the homework in order to have an understanding of it.”
Not only is Kordenbrock unique in his teaching style, but he also talks a lot about controversial issues and politics in his class. Talking about politics and offering your political stance in the classroom has been a controversial topic itself. However, Kordenbrock is not afraid to bring up these issues and talk about them with students.
“I think that’s because he believes very strongly that teachers do not shed their constitutional rights when they walk through the door,” Meyers said. “I think he believes kids deserve to hear what adults think about certain topics and beliefs.”
Bale appreciates his honesty in politics.
“I felt really lucky to have Mr. Kordenbrock during the 2016 election year because I felt like a lot of teachers were just tiptoeing around the issue, and that just makes kids feel like school is so distant from reality, and that’s not what school should be,” Bale said. “Mr. Kordenbrock does express his views, but he was always saying that he accepted and appreciated disagreement as well.”
In his 11 years at Clayton High School, Kordenbrock has not only impacted the history department, but the Clayton environment has changed him as well.
“When Mr. Kordenbrock first came to Clayton 11 years ago, he was a little less likely to rock the boat, to complain about things, to be a contrarian–although this is true of most new teachers,” Meyers said. “Nowadays, he speaks his mind about about everything, he’ll come into the office and just be like ‘what about this?’”
Another big difference, Meyers said, is Kordenbrock’s growth of knowledge in history.
“Mr. Kordenbrock knew a lot of history when he came in, but he’s like a sponge, he reads like crazy,” Meyers said. “Mr. Kordenbrock is definitely one of those folks who cares deeply about rigor and content, and he’s grown as a historian in that sense, but that love and passion for history has always been there.”