Since its opening in 1974, Mt. Carmel High School has been a beacon of community and friendship in PUSD. Just over a decade later, Lee Raskin joined the Sundevil family as an AP European Civilizations and World History teacher. He remains an integral part of the school’s culture. From an iconic sense of sarcasm to the fear instilled in students as he walks around his classroom with a pool noodle in hand, Raskin has left a lasting impression on the school.
“This is my thirty-fifth year of teaching. I should mention: thirty-four of those years have been at Mount Carmel,” Raskin said.
Raskin says that the path to finding his dream career started in a very different direction. By enduring many twists, turns, and seemingly unfortunate events, he somehow made his way to becoming a high school history teacher.
“Originally, I was an engineering major, and I failed calculus […]twice […] And if you can’t do calculus, you can’t be an engineer. So, I switched to being an economics student […] I did well enough in it […] but I decided I didn’t really like it,” Raskin said. “I stopped going to school […] at the beginning of my junior year of college.”
Following his third year in college, Raskin found a job at a law firm, although he soon recognized that law was too political for his tastes. But this was not the end of Mr. Raskin’s educational endeavors. As luck would have it, a random assignment provided him with the inspiration to adjust his professional path in favor of pursuing a teaching career.
Mr. Raskin eventually decided it was in his best interests to continue his studies in a major which aligned with his personal interests, history. Shortly after returning to college, he got a summer job at one of the office campuses.
“PCs were brand new. And so, because I had been an engineering major for a year, I had taken some computer classes, and so I wasn’t afraid of the computer,” Raskin said.
The office requested that Raskin teach other employees how to use WordPress and other computer programs.
“So I spent that summer learning how to use this software and then I did little training sessions […] everybody just told me what a great job I had done and how easy I made it to understand. And to me, it didn’t seem like a lot of work. I didn’t feel like I was really working when I was doing all this. And so the light went off and I said, ‘Maybe you should be a teacher,’” Raskin said.
After discovering his newfound passion, the newly-minted history teacher set out to start his career. Raskin moved to Central California for his very first teaching job. Although it started on rocky ground, his misfortune led him to the school that he has worked at for the past three and a half decades.
“And then I got laid off the bat first year [because] they had budget problems […], so they had to let somebody go, and it [was] going to be me, which was in essence, the best thing that ever happened because I came back down to San Diego, I got a job here at Mt. Carmel, and I never left,” Raskin said.
Raskin has zero regrets in hindsight. He is motivated by challenging young people and getting them “to defend their ideas.”
“It’s not my own analogy, [… but] teaching is like planting seeds. You have no idea what’s gonna grow from what you put in, and I’ve had students that have done amazingly wonderful things[…],” Raskin said. “I mean, I feel like part of my philosophy of life is that I’ve always wanted to leave the world a little better. After I die, if it was better than before I came along, I think I’ve been able to do alright.”
Since announcing his retirement, Raskin has been pondering his next steps.
“So my current plan, which of course is subject to change, is: I’m going to buy myself a nice car […] and start a nice car service, driving Uber and Lyft […] The beauty of it is, I don’t have to make any money at it because I already have my retirement pension that’s going to pay for all of my bills[… So this is] just a hobby that can make a little bit of money,” Raskin said.
Raskin is prepared to leave teaching behind but admits that he will be sad to retire following a year of online teaching. In fact, he taught one extra year rather than retiring after a chaotic third trimester in early 2020 because “[he] didn’t want that to be [his] last memory of teaching.”
“I came back this year in the hope that […] maybe we will get kids back in class at least for part of third trimester,” Raskin said.
Despite leaving a job that he loved going to every day, Raskin is excited to see what lies ahead for future teachers and younger generations.
“The whole thing about making way for younger teachers, I really do feel now, like my time to be in a classroom is over […] I have to step away to make room for somebody younger and more flexible and more energetic and creative than I am now,” Raskin said.
In the end, Mr. Raskin wants to leave people with a small token of wisdom he has stood firmly by during his life. He hopes that the students he has taught over the years graduate with a new sense of curiosity and excitement.
“My wish for every high school student is to recognize the wonder of the world. What I mean by that is […] anything you can look at, think about, see, touch, taste, [or] smell is cool in one way or another. […]Everything is worth knowing about and if you live your life right, you never stop learning. You never stop being amazed by something new that you didn’t know yesterday,” Raskin said.
Aside from the memories of pool noodles and aristocratic titles, Raskin hopes that he has also inspired students to find interest in anything and everything and embrace the world before them.
“There [are] enough things out there that […]everybody can find; almost an infinite number of things interesting. You’re never bored.”