After a hectic February for students in Brendan Smith’s Geometry Honors class, we were eager to meet the man who would be our new teacher for the rest of the year. While we waited, math teacher Sandra Goss gave us a bit of a backstory about who we’d be meeting. She said that he was known for giving an A+ on the final exam to students who hadn’t answered any questions correctly. I had never heard of a teacher grading a test like this, and I was intrigued to meet my new teacher.
With that story piquing my interest, veteran math teacher Jonathan Clapp entered the room clad in a bright purple shirt, a gray tweed vest, and an air of excitement that could be felt by everyone in the room.
After saying good-bye to KO in 2014, Mr. Clapp finds himself waking up and returning to this very place after an eight-year hiatus from teaching. Hearing that a current teacher would be leaving for the rest of the year, he knew he’d regret it if he didn’t jump at the opportunity to give teaching another shot.
While this was a very pleasant surprise for those who have known Mr. Clapp, his return will only last for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year. Since he’s been in retirement, he’s had more time than ever to devote to new hobbies that might surprise even those who knew Mr. Clapp in 2014.
During our conversation, he first recounted to me the difficulty in choosing a career as a young man in the 1980s. “I was a landscape architect working for the state of Connecticut and was very unhappy in my work, very unfulfilled,” Mr. Clapp recalled. “And I thought I had to find a new career, and my father had been a teacher and had left the teaching profession and always regretted it.” This is how everything started for Mr. Clapp and his teaching career.
Truly a Renaissance Man, Mr. Clapp has explored a multitude of careers and hobbies, beginning in his youth. Along with landscaping, he’s tried his hand at truck-driving, retail, working for the State of Connecticut, and warehouse work, although he soon realized teaching was his calling. He recalls that he made this choice after deciding to spend more time with his two children. “I went home and I took care of my kids, and I pondered what I wanted to do,” he said. “And I said, ‘I’m going to give teaching a chance.’ Nothing else came to mind.” A benefit to this, he said happily, was the fact that he got his summers off.
Due to the extended time with no commitments, he got creative with new hobbies and ways to spend his time. Something he mentioned, much to my surprise, was that he rides a motorcycle, one of the ways he gets regular exercise. “I live in the woods, literally in the woods, and I spend a lot of time landscaping my property,” he said. And, he stated with pride, he has maintained a phantom landscaping company called Lazy Day Landscaping, where the only client is himself.
Among all his jobs and hobbies, what I personally found most interesting was his deep love of art. “If I had an addiction, that would be to buying art,” he said in all seriousness. A large portion of his time retired was spent visiting art galleries and stores around New England. “I tend to like emerging artists, younger artists, because their work is cheaper,” he said with a grin, “but they do interesting stuff. And the art market is skewed to a few big names.” Although he has less time to explore art until the summer, he found one benefit to being employed full-time. “It’s nice that I’m working here, and I’m getting paid and all my money, because all that money is going to buying art,” he said with a quick smile.
Mr. Clapp shared that he started teaching at Talcott Mountain Academy in Avon for one-and-a-half years, but soon relocated to KO, teaching for 30 years before retiring. When he heard the school was in a bind, he gladly agreed to fill in. “I have friends who still teach here, and I really enjoyed working here, and I thought I could help out,” he said. “I have to adjust my leisure schedule, but I had the time.” I asked if he wanted to extend his time at KO into the next year, but he assured me that this is plenty.
Even with his extensive career at KO, being away during such a time of rapid growth in technology has proved to give him a bit of a setback. “I am finding myself a little technologically challenged, which is ironic since I used to teach computer classes,” he said good-humoredly. He also remarked that the new schedule can be very difficult to get the hang of for veteran teachers like himself.
Freshman Amy Wang, a student of Mr. Clapp’s in Geometry Honors, noted the difficulty in switching teachers this far into the school year. “Mr. Smith and Mr. Clapp have two very different teaching styles, so trying to adjust very late into the school year is kind of weird, especially with finals coming up and the extra stress of that,” she said.
While his students have met some challenges, Mr. Clapp and I also discussed how he is being challenged by coming back to KO in the middle of the school year after being gone for so long. A lot of the teachers this year have been hired since the start of the pandemic, so they’ve learned the ways of KO much differently than someone eight years ago would have.
Amy believes that, even though he hasn’t been here a full year, his class will impact her throughout her high school career. “I think his teaching style pushes me to learn a lot more outside of school,” she said, “ I feel like that could be a good skill to have when I’m older and I don’t have people holding my hand through lessons.”
As I mentioned previously, Mr. Clapp certainly has a creative method for grading final exams, and I needed to know the reasoning behind it. He told me that multiple choice exams might not be as valid as they were before, and in order to answer a question completely wrong, you should know the correct answer in order to choose a different one. “If there were, I don’t know, 30 problems and you got 29 of them wrong, that’s pretty good. The probability of doing that poorly is, is really something,” he said with a sarcastic chuckle. “I thought [this way of grading] would be an interesting exercise.”
Finally, we discussed how he hopes to make a lasting impact on the students he’ll only know for two months. Above all, he truly wants to see students become more “intellectually aggressive,” as he calls it. “I would like to think that my students would become tougher intellectually, you know, and rise to meet their challenges,” he said.
Even though he couldn’t be our teacher for the entirety of the school year, hopefully his words will instill within his students this idea of trying to conquer whatever challenges may be facing them, in or outside the classroom.