The familiar face of Carlton Urdahl is one Buffalo High School students recognize. He’s been teaching for 60 years, 50 of which were at BHS. Multiple teachers at the school had him as their teacher. This year he’s retiring and leaving teaching to do some of his favorite things like taking care of his hobby farm, tending to his summer garden, and hanging out with his three pet cats. He plans to continue meeting his friends for coffee at Perkins each morning.
60 years is a long time and Urdahl could already be retired, so what made him stay? “Teaching AP Calculus has been my savior,” Urdahl said. “I just love teaching it. It’s an exciting class, AP students take the AP exam, and every year my goal is to be better than the year before. It’s been fun to try to do that and come up with ideas that would improve things. I also love doing problems. One of my things is at breakfast every morning I work on a couple of problems from this 800 calculus problems book. If I hadn’t taught AP I probably would have retired 20 years ago.”
Students also played a big role in Urdahl’s love for teaching, some even kept coming around after they graduated. “A very good friend of mine I met when he was a freshman, I still keep in touch with him and we’ve grown very close,” Urdahl said.
One student in particular permanently altered Urdahl’s life.
“I became sort of like a surrogate parent for a kid who was a foreign exchange student and needed a host home,” Urdahl said. “I attended his graduation, and a few years ago I was actually at his wedding.”
Another student that Urdahl vividly remembers ran into him at a restaurant.
“I had this little kid in eighth grade who was always antsy and did some pretty silly things…He was so short that when he sat at his desk his feet wouldn’t reach the floor and he would always cross his legs and swing them,” Urdahl said. “Many years later I was at a restaurant and he walked in; I didn’t recognize this guy at all, but he sat at a table not too far from me. As I looked over at him, he was talking to a friend and his legs were crossed. I thought ‘my gosh, that can’t be the same guy.’ So when I left I purposely walked by him, he said ‘Hi, Mr. Urdahl.’ He was in his 30s or 40s by then.”
Even his recent students notice how passionate he is about his work.
“You could tell that Mr. Urdahl was passionate about teaching, he would always give us challenges and was always so excited when he was solving problems and it seemed like he loved what he was doing,” said previous Algebra 2 student Mackenzie Koren ‘25.
He loves to teach all kinds of math, but especially Calculus.
“He would always have calculus problems on the board,” Koren said. “He would teach us how to solve them even though we weren’t supposed to learn it yet, so we learned more than other kids who were also in Algebra two.”
A few of the teachers at BHS had him as their teacher when they were in high school. English teacher Ryan McCallum recalls how Urdahl helped him become the teacher he is today.
“I ended with a D in the first quarter of calculus, but I eventually got it up to a B,” McCallum said. “One day when I was struggling he pulled me aside and said, ‘I think you should be a math teacher.’ He asked me if I was sure I wanted to be an English teacher. I thought he was joking. He said, ‘you know what it means to struggle with math, and you figured it out on your own. … I’ve never struggled with math so I don’t understand it the way you do.’ He wanted me to teach something I struggled with so I could connect with future struggling students. That left a huge impact on me, and even though I’m an English teacher, I know I have to work at understanding students who are struggling because I haven’t struggled myself.”
Mr. Urdahl influenced many students’ lives throughout the course of his career. BHS is forever grateful for all he has done and continues to do. In and out of school, teaching or not, he will definitely be remembered as an admirable teacher who cares about each and every student that crosses his path.
For more Urdahl stories check out this story from The Drummer.