Teacher has history with TNCC: George Tyler has been at Thomas Nelson Community College since its doors first opened
Published: December 2, 2008
The Daily Press
By Jennifer L. Williams
Youthfulness is what led George Tyler to a career teaching math and it’s a quality he exudes to this day. One of two instructors at Thomas Nelson Community College the entire 40 years it’s been open, Tyler swears he weighs just three pounds more than he did in the tenth grade.
You can bet it’s true. His piercing blue eyes and trim white beard belie his approach to 70 next month. Forty years worth of old textbooks, including a college calculus one his father used in the 1920s, fill an office that tells his story.
Tyler grew up in Charles City and is the great-grandson of John Tyler, who was the 10th U.S. President and a Charles City native.
After attending community college in Florida and graduating from Florida State, he got a master’s degree from the College of William and Mary before returning to Florida to teach public school there.
He ran into problems because of his youthful appearance. The first year he was kicked out of the faculty lounge and called down in the hall for not being in an assembly — because other faculty and staff thought he was a student.
“We had a student exchange days among the schools,” Tyler said. “I sat in the back and one of my students taught the class, and they never knew the difference.”
Tyler quit Feb. 18, 1968, as part of a mass exodus of Florida teachers protesting a lack of funding.
A neighbor hired him as an electrician’s helper for $1.50 an hour. He loved the job and would have been perfectly content to stay in it, but for the pay.
So Tyler started looking for a job at Virginia community colleges. John Tyler Community College, in the Chester area south of Richmond, offered him a job but he felt it was just because of his name.
He turned it down, pursuing an opening at the soon-to-open Thomas Nelson Community College a year later instead.
“My family’s been in this area since the 1600s, so we don’t go far from here,” Tyler said.
His first day of teaching at a two-building TNCC was Sept. 16, 1968. He remembers it well.
“Scared to death — didn’t know a soul,” said Tyler, who describes himself as shy and quiet.
His first class was at 8 a.m. and blackboards weren’t installed yet.
“They had the blackboards up within a week, but it was a rough start,” Tyler said. “No problem. We made it.”
Administrators frowned as students put up banners protesting the Vietnam War in those days. The protests weren’t a big issue, according to Tyler.
“It was kind of exciting times,” he said. “The students were glad to have the community college here.”
He had one of his best classes the second or third year. With close to 30 students, he had just two student absences in five quarters.
His passion for teaching hasn’t dimmed over time.
Inspiration came in the form of one of his high school teachers, a woman with bright red hair whose students thought was ancient, though Tyler said she was probably around 45 at the time.
“But she always acted young,” Tyler said. “Some of the other teachers I had in high school, which there weren’t many, didn’t seem like they could laugh with the students, couldn’t relax with them.
“I said ‘Well, I like that. I can do the math and I can teach. These are two things I can do. I can be with young people and teach.’”
Tyler, an assistant professor of mathematics, is one of just two TNCC professors with tenure.
Outside of work, he’s accomplished all that he’s wanted to do. A few years back he pursued his lone big dream of participating in a Montana cattle drive. While many people in the area enjoy being on the water, he referred to his “boat” as a portable sawmill he bought for his property in Charles City.
He enjoys stealing away to the country after work Tuesdays, since for a number of years he’s had Wednesdays off. Jaunts out to Charles City allowed him to reconnect with the country life, where he enjoys walking a pack of 10 dogs he keeps there.
Tyler, who lives in Newport News, has been married for almost 50 years. His daughter is a longtime employee at Colonial Williamsburg and his son is the Charles City commonwealth’s attorney.
Although very low-key on TNCC’s campus, Tyler got to pick which office he wanted when the math department moved to a new building. He chose one with a floor-to-ceiling window with an enviable view of woods as well as campus.
No mention of retirement passed Tyler’s lips during a lengthy conversation. He isn’t big on the Internet craze, and says students using calculators and online help are stifling their ability to do math in their heads.
“I have students now that don’t know the multiplication tables,” he said. “That’s kind of disheartening, and hard to get through to people like that.”
Tyler also believes in the power of the classroom experience, rather than online classes. He doesn’t claim to know everything. An example: He says the only way he could teach statistics would be if he learned as he went along.
“The first time I taught differential equations was the first time I’d ever seen differential equations,” Tyler said. “You know, self-taught is a whole lot better a lot of times.”
As TNCC celebrates its 40th year, three faculty and staff members have been there the entire time. Associate professor of foreign languages Gloria Smith and Robert Auerbach, a lab technician on the Hampton campus, join George Tyler in the group.
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