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A conversation with Eric Pearson

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Eric Pearson pictured before a Minot High School boys basketball game at the Bismarck Event Center. Pearson teaches at Minot High School.

Eric Pearson is a teacher at Minot High School. Pearson teaches several classes at Minot’s Central Campus, serves as an assistant coach on the Minot boys basketball staff and runs the Magi Sports Media Twitter and Instagram pages (@MagiSportsMedia).

The Minot Daily News caught up with Pearson recently. He spoke candidly about a variety of topics. Some responses are edited for brevity and clarity.

MDN: What makes teaching special for you?

EP: There are a few things that come to mind. First, the responsibility of the whole profession. I feel pretty strongly about the content I teach. Students are going to need to have computer skills going forward into the workforce, entrepreneurship, or college.

Every once in a while, out of the blue, you will get a thank-you note from a former student saying how much they appreciated or liked your class and things like that. Doesn’t happen all that often, which makes it more special when it does. I’ve come to appreciate getting and receiving “atta-boys.” They don’t just apply to students. It’s also fun seeing former students out and about. They usually give me a “Hey, Pearson! How’s it going?” Makes me feel like I can’t be that bad of a teacher.

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Eric Pearson pictured before a Minot High boys basketball game at the Bismarck Event Center.

I had a student tell me that he set up a website and used Microsoft Word to create flyers and business cards for a little business he started; all things we learned in class. That was pretty cool.

Lastly, seeing how everyone is rallying together during this strange time is comforting. I know every profession is doing great things, I’m just attuned to teaching and teachers at the moment. How people are willing to help, share lessons, people going to the school to hand out lunches. I don’t think you’re ever alone in the profession. Someone is always willing to help.

MDN: In particular, what makes the Sports Multimedia class different from other classes students can take at Minot High?

EP: The No. 1 difference would be that a student can create something and it can be placed in front of 1,400-plus people on Instagram to be viewed by their peers and members of the community.

It’s also different in that students are working with real-life and pertinent material. For instance, if we’re learning about how to make a video, we’re not making a video on Abraham Lincoln, or a topic just for the sake of creating a video. We’re actually working with pictures and/or video from a game the night before, so it’s very relevant to them. They love finding a picture of themselves or a buddy, doing something cool with it and potentially putting it on our Instagram account. They all have a blog they put their work on throughout the class, which is how I grade the projects.

Last, I’d say it’s different in that it’s very hands-on. I’m not interested if they can memorize 10 steps to do that, or list the five ways to do this. I really don’t care how they do it, as long as they do it. With that approach, I’ve learned a lot as well because the students will often share with me a new way of doing something, which is awesome. They don’t come to class and have to listen to me lecture for an hour Monday-Thursday and then have a test on Friday. I demo a few things for them on Photoshop, give them some general guidelines and turn them loose. We then listen to some music and work on projects while I walk around offering help if needed. I hear a lot, “That’s the bell already? Geez, that was quick!” Sports Multimedia is also my favorite class to teach, so I suppose it subconsciously gets a little extra effort from me.

MDN: How do students get engaged with the class?

EP: Mainly by creating content. One example would be creating “gameday” posts of an upcoming sporting event and putting it on social media. Another is making video highlight clips and putting music to it. Every once in a while we’ll do polls or surveys that followers complete. It’s also fun to see them tagging people in a post for them to go check out.

I’m working up the courage to allow the students to do a “takeover” of the accounts at a sporting event. I’m not 100% sure how that would go or what it would look like, but it’s hopefully in the works.

MDN: How are you handling the current situation at school?

EP: This is flat-out weird, I don’t know how else to put it. If I had my way, I’d make this all go away and be back in the classroom. I have everything prepared and ready to go online. That’s not a problem since that’s kind of in my wheelhouse, but it is, to me, just easier to be in the classroom.

Being a teacher and coach, you’re kind of used to being in control of a situation. This is the opposite. It’s a helpless and eerie feeling. It’s also put a lot of things in perspective. The problems I would have in the classroom, or being annoyed about having to go to a meeting seem pretty petty right now. I’m extremely thankful to be in the educational field right now. It seems like there could potentially be some tough times ahead, so I’m thankful I’m in a career where working from a distance is possible, at least for a short period. I’m also ready to answer the bell for people who aren’t as fortunate, and I know many teachers will respond in kind.

MDN: When did you start taking photos at Minot High sporting events?

EP: It started years ago when Instagram kind of started picking up steam. I started an account for the boys basketball team, which was pretty easy to do. Being a coach, I was at every game and knew scores. Then, I thought it would be cool if we could get something going for all sports at Minot High and try to give recognition to everyone. That idea turned into the class, Sports Multimedia. So once I had the class approved, I needed material for kids to work on, so I started going to all the games and taking pictures. It then evolved into posting pictures from the events. I’ve only heard positive things, so I’ve just kept doing it. I believe this is the third year of doing it.

Some people have wondered why there’s not pictures of this or that sport. To address that, it’s because I can’t get to the event. Golf, for example, usually starts their meets mid-morning, so I’m in school during the event. Cross country only has one meet at home; if it doesn’t get rained or snowed out.

MDN: How do you use Twitter and Instagram?

EP: I use them personally and professionally. Professionally there are a lot of teachers on Twitter that share ideas and content. By simply following a hashtag, such as #busedu or #edtech, you can glean a lot of ideas to implement into class or you can also reply to people offering your two cents.

It’s nice having a few people who teach the same things as you but not necessarily in the same district or the same state. You can bounce ideas off people and get a completely different perspective. Following other accounts for inspiration and ideas is helpful too. An article in PC Magazine explained how Clemson athletics went all in on social media, especially their football account. It was amazing all the things they have the students doing. If we could turn the account into the Clemson University of the WDA, that would be mission accomplished. It’s a lofty goal, but it’s a goal.

Personally, I use it like anyone else, I suppose. I enjoy a good meme or two and it’s fun to post pictures or see what other people are up to.

MDN: What do you like to do in your spare time?

EP: In the summer, I love being outside on a bike or going on a hike. I also like learning more about coding, so there’s always a tutorial or two I have waiting for me to do when I have some free time. In the winter, it’s pretty much teach and coach. In the summer, you will find me on a mountain bike or trying to find a unique hike that’s not too terribly far away. I used to golf a lot, but realized I’m just not going to get good enough to where I can enjoy it. A typical round would include a club or two thrown, usually further than the ball.

MDN: Any favorite hiking and/or biking spots?

EP: Without a doubt, my No. 1 place in North Dakota is the Maah Daah Hey Trail between Watford City and Medora. Specifically a portion of the trail containing Devil’s Pass, which is a ridge with probably 150-foot drop-offs on either side. It’s absolutely beautiful country. In Minnesota, it’s the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trails, comprised of two small mining towns that have repurposed the old iron mines into mountain bike trails. The entire community of Crosby, Minn., revolves around it. Whitefish, Mont., has an awesome place called the Whitefish Bike Retreat. It’s an old barn they’ve turned into lodging with trails out the back door. Great coffee, too.

Favorite area, if I had to return to a spot, would be the towns of Hailey and Ketchum around Sun Valley, Idaho. There are trails absolutely everywhere.

My top three favorite hikes would have to be the hike around Rising Wolf Mountain in the Two Medicine Valley trails of Glacier National Park. Another one would be the hike to the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, which is also the end of the Appalachian Trail. There’s also great day hikes in Acadia National Park. Last would be Mt. Elbert in the Rockies, which was also my first (14,000-foot mountain). I’m hoping to find some more this summer.

I have to add Little Devils Tower and Black Elk Peak in South Dakota to the semi-local list as well.

MDN: If you could go back and tell your younger self something, what would you tell him? Would you give him some advice?

EP: I would say in order to find out who you are, you need to find out who you are not. It’s a process of elimination. Try as many things as possible to find out things you aren’t interested in. Mountain biking and hiking weren’t really on my radar until about five years ago. In order to find new things, you’re going to have to step out of your comfort zone, step out of and think outside the box. I’d also say you need to find some things that are challenging and then complete the challenge. There is nothing like the feeling you get from accomplishing something difficult and knowing you did it yourself. It builds confidence. Lastly, I’d say, “Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace,” a quote from Randy Armstrong. It will all be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

MDN: What does it mean for you to be a Magician?

EP: Two words. Magician Tradition. Being a Magician is really being a part of something bigger than you. Looking up at the state championships on the wall in the gym is something special. Being a small part of three in a row is really extraordinary. I’m not an alumni of MHS, but I know there are guys out there following the scores on Twitter, the news, etc. I know they’re texting each other about what should be done differently or what they would be doing, or wondering about the game plan. I love that. It means they care. They want to see the program succeed, and they’re still devoted to their school.

It goes beyond sports, though. There are so many ways students can be involved. FFA, FBLA, DECA, foreign language clubs, science programs, drama, speech, band, the drumline is remarkable. So many, it’s almost overwhelming. The kids that are putting on a uniform, picking up an instrument or acting in a play deserve nothing but respect for putting themselves out there and representing their school the best they know how.

MDN: Favorite photo ever taken?

EP: Oh, man. First, I want it to be known that I consider myself a very amateur photographer. I look at pictures from people like Sean Arbaut, Joshua Strong and Wendy Voeller and am amazed at their content. People should go follow them right now.

More people need to see what they can do. I don’t think I’ll ever get to that level, as I’m doing it just for fun.

That being said, my favorite sports pictures are ones that capture some kind of emotion. This year, when the girls basketball team beat Mandan, I snapped one of the coach walking off and the girls celebrating in the background. Another cool one: I was walking behind the bench in the WDA Tournament and grabbed a pic with my cellphone of the boys starting five waiting to be announced. Jaxon Gunville had his arms around the guys on his left and right as they were waiting to be announced and run out the ‘tunnel’ formed by the non-starters. I thought it was pretty cool after I edited it up a little bit.

Favorite non-sports picture would be in Sun Valley, Idaho, of an old ski shack that backwoods skiers use to stop and warm up. I was way out of my element on the bike getting up there, but once I did, it was very rewarding.

Jimmy Lafakis covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JJLII30.

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