Q1: What's a fun fact about you that our readers (and your students!) likely don't know?
Besides being ambidextrous, I am kind of a boring guy. I suppose it’s kind of neat that I have been a kindergarten teacher while also having coached two different varsity football teams, and have had several cameo roles in the middle school and high school plays. Oh, and I first met my wife here when I showed up to her door to substitute teach for her class.
Q2: How did you get involved in building sets for the drama department?
My wife often volunteers me for jobs here at Haldane. A few years ago, when the high school was in the need of help for the Fiddler on the Roof set, I came with my daughter to offer a hand. As we started productions again in our post-Covid world, Martha (Mechalakos) found that I was the only one left willing to help (most of the parents who were previously involved pulled away as their kids graduated). I handled the Greek Trilogy set almost exclusively on my own, but then got some help in a big way in the fall when Matt Koch volunteered. The two of us worked on both the drama and musical together last year. This year, Matt has taken the lead and I have done what I can to support him.
Q3: Where did you grow up? Were the arts an important part of your childhood/family life? If so, how?
I grew up in East Fishkill in a typical suburban family of four, where sports dominated my after-school interests. With that being said, my dad is a pop-culture junkie and grew up loving music of various genres. He also always had an appreciation for Broadway and my parents always made it a point to incorporate that experience into our family. Yet, it wasn’t until Haldane when I first stepped foot on the stage. You have to wear many hats here in this district. I suppose it was my theatrics in the classroom that captured the attention of those who have handled the drama productions.
Q4: Did you participate in the arts when you were a K-12 student? Was there a particular art teacher or class, or a creative project or experience, that had a major impact on you?
I always had an interest in art and found myself taking advanced art classes in high school, but I was never involved in drama production. I played two sports most of my life and that schedule often conflicted with the time required to get involved in the arts. I suppose that was an easy excuse for me too and, in hindsight, I wish I found a way [to participate in the arts], for I have a deep appreciation for the kids of Haldane who attempt to master both worlds.
Q5: Please describe your approach to teaching at Haldane.
I am a big believer in being the passionate spark that ignites a love for learning. In order for the experience in the classroom to be memorable, the students have to feel that they are at the center. Learning is inherently a selfish act -- we remember things if they hold meaning. Under this idea, I feel that it is my job to give my students an experience in the class, whether it’s through role play, socratic seminars, debates, court cases, art projects, field trips, or building siege weaponry.
Q6: Reflecting on your teaching experience at Haldane to date: What has been your toughest challenge and your greatest reward?
Toughest Challenge = professionally, it was the shutdown during Covid. The biggest lesson we learned is that education is a human and emotion-based venture; the distance between teachers and students during that experience was real hard for me because it stripped away the magic I use to make those memorable connections. Personally, it’s when a student of mine endures a family tragedy. It’s hard to make school important to a kid I have who just lost an important person in their lives -- it makes me just want to hug them and protect them from any future pain.
Greatest Reward = My wife and I made the decision to move into the community so that our own kids could attend Haldane. My greatest reward has been watching them have these wonderful experiences in the school my wife and I have been so dedicated towards. My son will graduate in the spring; my daughter is currently a sophomore.
Q7: What was a highlight of the past year of teaching?
We were able to resurrect several experiences last year that were shut down due to the Covid protocols in place. The students were able to participate in the castle siege project, where they had to defeat 6 different defenses to a castle I built. They learned, designed, and then built siege weapons and used marshmallows to launch an attack. The kids had a blast! We were also able to resurrect the trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The trip is a culmination of our work on the ancient world curriculum - the looks on their faces when they come face-to-face with artifacts of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece never gets old!
Q8: Why do you think it's important for the arts to be part of K-12 education?
The arts is what brings life and passion to the school experience. The importance of its presence can’t be overstated. We do a nice job of this at Haldane, but I believe there’s still space for growth. The talent we have in this community needs to be an asset we tap into more regularly.
Q9: How can Haldane parents (and the wider community) support the arts at Haldane?
I would love to have a database of willing community members and the professional talents they’re willing to share in our classrooms. My students take part in a year-long project where they’re asked to re-start civilization. This opens the door to a number of community-based connections. For example, the students have to create original artwork which could be seen in the civilization they’re creating. I would love to bring in local artists to assist in this project.
Q10: What's the funniest, or most surprising, experience you've had while teaching at Haldane?
I’ve had so many so it’s hard to pinpoint one. For several years, I would challenge my reading class to enter the class in a unique way every day we had class. Boy, were there some creative entrances. From the rearrangement of furniture, to replacing students with stuffed animals, to leaving a series of riddles to find where they were hiding, my students certainly delivered on this challenge.
Q11: Is there an important question that we failed to ask you? If so, what is that important question, and your (equally important) answer?
Just some not-so-random thoughts: this school functions best when we have all hands on deck. Volunteerism is critical. I have had such an enriching experience here at Haldane because I got involved in the lives of my students in ways that extended beyond the classroom. I cannot tell you how incredibly rewarding my career has been - it’s the magic of this special place. But we always need more volunteers. Please, if willing and able, the drama department could always use help.