“Feels like flying”

IB English teacher cycles through highs and lows of teaching


Cielo Muniz Sigala

International Baccalaureate (IB) Higher Level (HL) English Literature teacher, Newspaper advisor and Speech and Debate advisor Eric Helle rides out of work to attend one of his bike rides to Coronado.

“The type of teacher I want to be and the type of teacher that is the most impactful in student lives are Catchers in the Rye. We are trying to catch kids from falling over the cliffs that society presents for us and help kids be the best possible selves they can be,” International Baccalaureate (IB) Higher Level (HL) English Literature teacher, Newspaper advisor and Speech and Debate advisor Eric Helle said.

E. Helle has been teaching for 32 years. Over this time, he has faced stress and adversity in his career. To remedy this stress, E. Helle found cycling and outdoor activities to be helpful when he is in stress. in his everyday life; which includes his job, family and extracurriculars.

“I still have things to figure out, everyday is a new day. It’s a great challenge to hone my craft each and every year,” E. Helle said. 

His passion for teaching began back in the second grade. E. Helle explains that when his class was assigned to build a city and take on jobs, he wanted to be the professor. Later on in the 10th grade, he mentions that a teacher, who introduced him to the story of The Catcher and the Rye and supported him through his father’s passing, fueled his desire to be a teacher.

I just love the synergy between man and machine. When you’re on a road bike, it’s like, you’re flying.

— International Baccalaureate (IB) Higher Level (HL) English Literature teacher, Newspaper advisor and Speech and Debate advisor Eric Helle

“I just remember being in awe of Miss Robinson [his second grade teacher], because she was leading all these kids,” E. Helle said. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ It seemed powerful to be a teacher because you’re leading all these young, excited kids who want to learn.”

This enthusiasm to teach was apparent to E. Helle’s wife, Lucy Helle, when they first met. She explains that she was first drawn to him, over 30 years ago, because of his love for language and written word. 

“All his life he wanted to teach. That’s always been his dream,” L. Helle said. “Not very many people are made to teach but he is. He enjoys young minds and he so passionate about how literature coincides with life.” 

For E. Helle, his professional career has become a part of his personal life. L. Helle explains how he always takes his job home with him. There is not a clear line between E. Helle’s ‘teacher’ life and ‘personal’ life because his passion for teaching remains with him at all times. 

“He’s always thinking about what to bring into the classroom. It’s something he brings home and especially as the Speech and Debate and Newspaper advisor. I don’t think it ever turns off for him,” L. Helle said. 

Over the years of teaching, E. Helle has piled up many levels of stress that are not healthy for him. As E. Helle developed into a veteran teacher, he had become fond of many extracurriculars such as Newspaper and Speech and Debate. When he found these new activities, he allowed them to become a part of his life which carved out his personal time.

“[The stress had] really gotten away from me when I took on the position as Speech and Debate coach and then newspaper advisor. They were two extracurriculars that demanded tremendous amounts of time and energy. And both of them were out of my comfort zone,” E. Helle said. 

Although E. Helle found these new after-school activities rigorous, he took on the challenge. He wanted them to be accessible for all students. E. Helle worked to ensure students gained something meaningful from these extra curriculars. 

“I wanted to figure out systems that would allow students to be competitive at it. So, Bonita would be respected in the community and when the school is respected, that means that the students can walk in there and be able to be listened to,” E. Helle said.

As the newspaper class grew to hold value to him, more stress was laid upon him. Throughout the years, many people such as E. Helle’s daughter Segan Helle, grew concerned about the large amounts of stress E. Helle was dealing with.

“I would say that there were times where I’ve been worried about my dad’s health or worried about his stress levels. Or concerned about the amount of time he gives to others that he doesn’t give to himself,” S. Helle stated.

Over the years, E. Helle finally had the chance to rest and re-focus on himself. During the COVID-19 pandemic he has re-found one of his interests: outdoor activities. 

“He has been in love with the outdoors since he was a kid. He was a really big cyclist in his 20s,” S. Helle said. 

When E. Helle gave more time to himself; it not only improved his physical health but also his mental health. The pandemic allowed him to have a greater balance between his work as a teacher and advisor and his enthusiasm for the outdoors.

“The pandemic was a reset for him. I think for a lot of us it made us reevaluate our priorities, our health and how much time we spent activities that fulfilled us outside of our working hours,” S. Helle said. “When he returned to cycling, I think all of a sudden, he looked happier, he looked lighter, physically and spiritually. It’s been a big change for him.”

E. Helle and IB HL English 1 and Theory of Knowledge teacher Jason Good agree with this sentiment. L. Helle has noticed that E. Helle became happier after he rediscovered cycling. Good explains that for all teachers, having a balance is crucial to dealing with stress. 

“I think having a hobby is so important. A hobby develops a skill set that someone can be really good at. For Mr. Helle, his [hobby is] bike riding and hiking. He takes it to an impressive level,” Good said. 

This observation from Good comes from E. Helle’s successes since he began cycling. With E. Helle’s re-assessed focus, he has completed The Great Walk of Tennessee, his first century bike ride in Palm Springs, he biked up Mount Laguna and soon wishes to do the Tour de Big Bear with his fellow biker club, 619 Barkada. 

“When I joined a biker gang called 619 Barkada, I thought, ‘Wow, I found my people,’” E. Helle said. “I made that a priority. And that re-established a balance in my life that I had been missing for many years.”

The outdoors, especially cycling, were one of his first great loves and when he started associating himself with these familiar activities again he was rejuvenated. The meditative benefits of cycling have helped E. Helle change his mindset. He explains how he is much more attentive, happier and performs better in his personal and professional life. 

“I just love the synergy between man and machine,” E. Helle said. “When you’re on a road bike, it’s like, you’re flying.”