Kurt Sigmon ended his chapter at Bunker Hill High School last week. The math teacher retired after 29 years.
Sigmon is also part of Bunker Hill’s Class of 1987. “So 31 years of my life have been spent in this building, counting my time in high school,” said Sigmon as he looked around his empty classroom. He taught a total of 27 years at Bunker Hill.
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Sigmon said. “A lot of people when they’re young talk about getting their dream job, or people ask them what their dream job is; this was my dream job. Coming back to my high school and teaching, and giving back to the community that I feel gave me so much.”
Sigmon began his teaching career at Bunker Hill as a math and French teacher. After a few years, Sigmon began leading the student yearbook staff. He did this for 25 years. “I’ve loved yearbooks for as long as I can remember,” Sigmon admitted. “When I was in middle school, I was on the yearbook staff my eighth-grade year and it was fun. I really liked it.”
Sigmon set a goal for himself to become the editor of the yearbook once he got to high school. “And sure enough, when I was a senior in high school I was the editor,” Sigmon smiled.
As the leader of the yearbook staff for the past 25 years at Bunker Hill, Sigmon has enjoyed helping students learn the ways of photography, graphic design, editing and more. “I’ve gotten to know so many really cool kids through yearbook,” he said. “I look back over those years and think about what the students got out of the experience.
“I think a lot of them did get some pretty cool things out of the experience of creating the yearbook,” Sigmon continued. “Several (students) even went into graphic design as a career, and one student is even in professional broadcasting now up in Virginia.”
Aside from the yearbook, another trademark of Sigmon’s teaching career was his catchy math songs. For years, he has used familiar tunes and rewrote the lyrics to teach math concepts to his students.
“It’s been fun,” Sigmon smiled. “The kids say it helps them remember, and it made sense to me. I grew up with Schoolhouse Rock when I was a little kid watching Saturday morning cartoons. I wouldn’t know how a bill becomes a law or the preamble to the Constitution if it wasn’t for Schoolhouse Rock.”
He’s created about 18 songs during his career. Some of the songs Sigmon has created include “Gettin’ Triggy Wit It,” about trigonometry and “Mambo 3-4-5,” about pythagorean triples.
“I was so nervous the first time I did a song in class,” Sigmon admitted. “I thought they (the students) were either going to love it or eat me alive. It turned out they loved it. I could not believe it. It was like a flurry of inspiration.”
Sigmon remembers a time when he reconnected with a former student he taught as a high school freshman. The former student remembered most of the words to one of Sigmon’s math tunes. “I taught him just one time as a freshman, but he proceeded to sing the entire refrain for one of my math songs, word for word,” Sigmon said.
“I couldn’t believe that someone would remember something that I came up with. That was astounding, a mind-blowing experience,” Sigmon continued. “It made me realize that this isn’t just something goofy that I do in class. This, at least for some kids, is something special. And it’s been special for me, too.”
Although his song-writing began back in the 1990s, Sigmon’s more recent students loved the songs just as much. At the 2021 commencement ceremony, one of his former students asked to hear one of his songs one more time before walking onto the football field for graduation.
“I queued up the one I thought they would know best, and I don’t know if half of them were rolling their eyes or half of them were excited to hear the song again, but we did it and I told them, ‘Just always remember: there’s always one more song,’” smiled Sigmon.
Sigmon practiced what he preached by performing one last farewell song at his retirement celebration. The song was performed to the tune of “American Pie” by Don McLean. It commemorated his time at the school, and included the line, “Bye, bye, dear old Bunker Hill High.”
“I’m going to miss the people of this community and the people who work here the most,” Sigmon said. “The teachers who are the long-timers here really become invested and find out what kind of a special place Bunker Hill is. We had a former coach that would say, ‘Bunker Hill is the best-kept secret of Catawba County,’ and I agree with that. It’s just a really special place to be.”
Although Sigmon ended his time at Bunker Hill, he hasn’t thrown in the towel on teaching just yet. He plans to teach part-time at University Christian High School in Hickory next school year.
“I have seen over my career many schools where teachers retire or leave because they’re frustrated, or angry, or burned out, or any number of other things,” Sigmon said. “They end up leaving on terms that aren’t fantastic — that’s not the way it is with me. I feel like I am leaving at the top of my game.”
Emily Willis is a general assignment and education reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.