John Boettner is a social studies teacher at Santa Barbara Middle School, but he’s not like one I ever had. It’s a special kind of person who can take middle school kids on a cross country bicycle trip across the United States and an even more special person who can do that through the Republic of Rwanda in central eastern Africa (Yes, that Rwanda). You see, John uses cycling and life experiences to teach his students lessons that they will never forget. In short, John is the kind of teacher you remember; the kind of teacher whose memory will hit you first as you think about the person you’ve become and consider how you got to that place. We don’t get many teachers like that in life but when we do, we should celebrate them.

I met john at an industry conference this past January. Now, you may be saying to yourself, Mike, you are not a teacher, what kind of conference could you possibly have met john at? Well, our paths do cross, but it’s not where you might think.

At Santa Barbara Middle School, John helped form an organization called Teen Press. You see, in addition to being an avid cyclist, John is also a film buff and he often uses film as a teaching aid. Years ago, when the Santa Barbara International Film Festival was coming to town, John wanted to give his students a chance to talk to some influential filmmakers. He had his students apply for press credentials and taught them some interviewing skills; but one important lesson he impressed upon his fledgling journalists was to go beyond the questions that Hollywood types get asked all the time; Who are you wearing? What’s your relationship status? What’s it like working with so and so? Instead, he wanted his kids to uncover what these people are like as human beings. And that’s why, at one red carpet event, they handed Amy Adams a burrito!

This is where our paths cross. I interview people for a living for both this podcast and for clients who hire me to run marketing studies. The kids of Teen Press interview filmmakers, celebrities, politicians, and business leaders. Al Gore, Will Smith, burrito loving Amy Adams, and Clint Eastwood are just some of the names that the Teen Press of SBMS have interviewed. Someone in an industry association I am part of heard about Teen Press and invited John and some of his former students to teach a bunch of professional moderators (many of whom have spent more time interviewing people than these kids have been alive) – how to uncover humanness in an interview. It left a mark on me, so much so that I think I just created a new word, and I am pleased to share John’s personal story, in more detail, with you.

This interview is brought to you by my book Uncorking a Murder. A retired detective short on time works with podcaster Farrah Graham to right a wrong in this “Serial meets Gone Girl” thriller. Pick up Uncorking a Murder at, Barnes and, or wherever books are sold online. Available in paperback and eBook editions.