23 lessons I’ve learned from 23 years at KO


This June, I’ll walk off campus, and for the first time in 23 years, fail to show up again in September. My summer vacation will be eternal (the warm weather won’t) and though I’m looking forward to new adventures, I know there are many things that I’ll miss, not the least of which are the energy, intelligence and wit of my students, the support, talent and kindness of my incredible colleagues, and the privilege of hanging out in classrooms with the novels, poems and plays that I love.

Since I’ve been a teacher for over thirty years, I thought it might be time to switch hats, and tell you some of the things that I’ve learned in my 23 years at KO.

#23 – Enthusiasm is crucial: It’s not a teacher’s job to entertain, but showing that you love a novel, an author or even a mathematical formula goes a long way toward inspiring attention.

#22- Teach what you love: You can’t be genuinely enthusiastic if you don’t love your subject. I will miss the experience of watching kids read, for the first time, the authors, characters and works I have come to admire and cherish: Hamlet and Hemingway, Faulkner and Morrison, Billy Pilgrim and Hazel Motes, among others.

#21 – Less is more: Trying to rush through too much material is counterproductive. Savor the words. Pay attention to details.

#20 – Students remember class, but little of what they learned: That’s okay. Pique interest. Open doors. It’s okay not to remember all the elements of Toni Morrison’s style, as long as you might consider reading another one of her books. (After all, for my money, she’s the greatest living American writer).

#19 – The more things change, the more they stay the same. I started teaching with mimeograph machines, moved on to copiers, and graduated with Google classroom. The tools change. The kids…. Not so much. Encourage, appreciate and support them, and they’ll thrive.

#18 – Sometimes, you just have to abandon the plan: Once in awhile, something else bubbles up to the surface. It might be an important school or contemporary issue; it could just as easily be something silly and trivial. Embrace the moment. Change gears when it’s necessary. (Hey Shakespeare 2017.. Remember Henry V?)

#17 – The year goes by too fast: It’s challenging to get through all the material, and I always wish I had more time.

#16 – Except in February: It may LOOK like the shortest month of the year, but it’s not. Even with eleven snow days and a long weekend, February lasts forever.

#15 – The New Year, despite the calendar, begins in September: Another instance of calendar hijinks. For me, the new year will always begin in September, a month characterized by joyful reunions, energetic optimism and the belief that anything is possible.

#14 – YouTube Fridays are (occasionally) an important thing: (See #18 above)
Once in a great while, it’s helpful to celebrate and acknowledge your students’ inertia. YouTube Fridays will get ‘em going again.

#13 – Writing parodies helps students to appreciate style: It’s fun to make fun. You can’t make fun of something you don’t understand. Case closed.

#12 – A good story, at the right moment, is almost always a worthwhile interruption: Anyone want to hear about the time I tried to board an airplane with a kitchen carving knife?

#11 – I will never not be nervous on Parents Night: I don’t know why. It’s crazy after all these years.

#10 – Thomas Hardy isn’t cutting it for contemporary students. #kasprakfail 2003

#9 – Mr. Kraus is right: the most memorable education you’ll have in high school is outside the classroom.

#8 – Try not to assign a new paper before you’ve graded the last one: Until you learn this important skill, you’ll drive yourself and your students bonkers.

#7a – It doesn’t matter where you go to college, as long as it’s a good fit: Contemporary society makes this impossible to believe before you get there, but my experience (as a student, a parent and a teacher) has taught me that this is absolutely 100% true.

#7b- There are LOTS of good fits.

#6- Teaching breeds patience and optimism. Patience because, sometimes, the fruits of our labor may take months or even years to unfold. And optimism, because experience has taught me that, though the timeline may vary, growth invariably happens in wonderful and surprising ways.

#5 – Shakespeare’s plays remain as relevant as ever: On this, I could write a book… except many others have already done it. Shakespeare’s questions about psychology, human nature, history, politics and religion could not be more timely.

#4 – Good writing is good thinking: Despite what anyone tells you about the modern world, it’s never been more important to learn to write well. It’s a discipline that will teach you to think.

#3 – Kids keep you young: Or at least young at heart. The body might be another story…

#2 – Teaching is a privilege and a huge responsibility: When I was younger, I couldn’t believe that anyone would trust me with a year of their children’s education. After I became a parent myself, it seemed even more staggering. I’ve always taken that seriously. (And so thanks, also, to all the great teachers that my own kids had here).

#1 – I sort of fell into teaching, but I found the right school: So thank you to ALL my students, advisees and colleagues for 23 amazing years.