A passion for books, knowledge, and giving define Mr. Eby’s nearly four decade teaching career
March 3, 2017
Room 103 has been one of the most distinctive rooms at NNHS for as long as many staff and students can remember. The room seems to explode with opinionated bumper stickers, posters, and books, spilling out into a hall also covered with murals and quotes.
Kermit Eby III has been teaching for 37 years, and has a long-standing reputation as being a progressive and unconventional teacher. Even his beliefs about necessary reading materials for students showcase his strong, diverse views.
“Everybody should read a radical critique of American History, so whether it be Howard Zinn, you need to expand your understanding of the privileges that we have, being raised in a suburban middle class,” Eby said. “I’m always looking to shock myself into some conscious effort to do something better.”
One of the defining factors in Eby’s classroom, amongst all the posters and Kermit the Frog memorabilia, are the books. Eby suspects he had around 3,000 books in his classroom, as well as 500 more in his home library. In preparation for his retirement at the end of this school year, the room is currently being cleared out. Students take the items they’ve called dibs on using blue post-it notes. Eby has been giving away more books everyday; piles of 50 or so are always up for grabs by the door.
Senior Matt Akins, a student of Eby’s for the past two semesters, has seen the drastic change of the classroom throughout the year.
“It used to feel really homey and now it’s just empty and sad,” Akins said.
Akins isn’t the only student that has felt the loss of the books and posters that have been so characteristic of Eby’s room. Senior Shresta Chemarla agreed that Eby’s books and posters are vital to the atmosphere of the room.
The shelves are loosely divided by subject matter, but like any well-kept library, there is a good bit of crossover. Genres include feminist novels, biographies, documentaries, lectures, Black history, and Chicago’s ethnic, social and political history.
Every teacher has books they believe are essential for high schoolers to read, and Eby is no exception.
“On a spiritual level, everybody should read the New Testament. But they all should read the basic books of Islam and other faith systems. Number one, the Tao Te Ching, 3000 years old, Lao Tzu, parables and stories. Just amazing stuff. I’ve read it 100 times,” Eby said.
Eby’s love for knowledge is by no means new to his family. The first generation Kermit Eby, the current staff member’s grandfather, was a professor, a minister of the Mennonite Brethren church, and an expert on communist infiltration in labor unions, according to his obituary published in the Chicago Tribune. His grandfather, who grew up on a farm, was a pacifist and had a unique transition into the urban environment and the world of teaching. Eby III even describes his grandfather’s writings and contributions to the culture at that time as fairly radical.
Eby surely won’t be bored in retirement, not with a 9-year-old, an 11-year-old, and a 13-year-old at home and plans to bike to Patagonia. But he is going to miss teaching, the students at North, and his fellow faculty members.
“I think when teachers go off to retire they miss having an audience. Teachers have students every day four or five times a day and it’s irreplaceable I suspect,” Eby said.
Discussing the end of his time as a teacher and the process of cleaning out his room brings a bittersweet feeling of nostalgia.
“It’s kinda like talking about my own funeral,” Eby said.