Science teacher Robert Zynda never wanted to go into teaching.
“My buddies would always laugh because when we were out, I would be teaching them stuff, so I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll try and see what happens,’” he said.
He originally wanted to be a biologist and thus got a DA DX certificate, certifying him to teach science at the high school level and general subjects to middle schoolers, as a backup.
“[As] a guy with a four year degree in biology, there aren’t a lot of options if you’re not going to pursue that masters [degree],” Zynda said.
And more than thirty years later, he is still teaching.
Zynda has always had a passion for the outdoors. He grew up hunting and fishing with his dad and hunted independently while still in school.
“My grandparents, when they retired, moved up on a lake and I would spend summers up there,” he recalled. “I would take the Greyhound bus on weekends in the fall with my shotgun. “My mom would drop me off on Friday and I would have my shotgun, my gear and I would take the bus up to Clare, and [my grandparents] would come pick me up and I would spend the weekend there hunting.”
Zynda went to school at Bishop Foley Catholic High School in Madison Heights. In high school, he spent time outdoors with his friends and bonded over their shared interest of fishing.
“[My friend] Mike and I would sneak into this gravel pit and catch large mouth bass,” he said. “Well, they were starting to build the subdivision, and we weren’t thinking much of it. So we were walking along the shoreline and we both get sucked in. And we’re like, ‘Wow! Sucked into your knees; that was weird!’ We both get up and get out and we keep going.”
All of his experience outdoors made him want to pursue forestry at Michigan Tech University, but when he got there, he doubted his career path and even contemplated dropping out of school to pursue other areas.
“I went to the counseling office and said, ‘I’m struggling, I don’t like what I’m doing, I want to be a mailman,’” he said.
The counselors told him that his best fitting profession was to be a National Geographic photographer, but he ended up switching his major to biology. At Michigan Tech, Zynda lived on only $25 a week and lived off the land.
“I would cut my own wood, from the forest until the snow got too deep,” he said. “I had to hitchhike the last year of college because I couldn’t afford my insurance anymore I lived five miles outside of campus. I would hitchhike and I never missed a class.”
One of the most memorable hitchhiking experiences was when Zynda was picked up by an army officer.
“I’m laying in the ditch, the snow is hitting my face and this van stopped and this gentleman in full military dress, he was in ROTC, rolls down his window [and says], ‘Son, it looks like you’re having a bad day,’” Zynda said. “I said, ‘yeah,’ and he goes, ‘son, hop on in.’”
However, there were some weeks when Zynda did not have enough money for food. Then, he would have to eat whatever was in his pantry.
“I called my mom for Mother’s Day and she said, ‘Oh we’re going out to dinner, what are you doing?’” he recalled. “‘Well,’ [I said,] ‘I made butterscotch oatmeal cookies from scratch.’ ‘Oh that’s great,’ [she said,] ‘What else are you having?’ ‘Butterscotch oatmeal cookies from scratch,’ [I said]. I had no money, and I didn’t have any money for another five days. I opened my cupboard and that’s all I had: the makings of cookies from scratch.”
Throughout college, Zynda did numerous odd jobs to get money, like stuffing envelopes and tarring roofs.
“I would do just about anything within reason that I felt I could handle and make a few bucks at it,” he said.
After graduating from Michigan Tech, Zynda pursued a master’s program in biology at Wayne State University. As part of his master’s program, Zynda got his DA DX certificate by taking thirty credits of teaching courses, which included his time student teaching. He started teaching at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s High School a year after getting married. At the time, he was making less than he did when laying carpets, but he stayed with it and has made an impact on many students’ lives.
“He is able to connect to students and also teach in a serious manner at the same time,” senior Ryan Amann said.
Amann has had Zynda for two years, last year for anatomy and AP Environmental Science this year.
“There’s never a dull moment in his class, even if we’re just learning about trees,” Amann said.