So let me give some background.
On May 15 I saw a posting on DC Craigslist for a private high Catholic high school in Hyattsville MD looking for a 12th grade Government teacher. As a DC area resident since 1982, I was pretty sure that the only Catholic high school in Hyattsville was DeMatha Catholic High School, of which I first heard in my sophomore year at Haverford in 1965 when it was that school, whose basketball team was coached by the eventually legendary Morgan Wootten, dealt then Lew Alcindor and his Power Memorial High School Basketball team their only loss during his tenure there.
So when I sent in my materials, my cover letter was geared specifically to DeMatha, noting my observation that it was the only such high school in Hyattsville.
Interestingly, I did not see a posting for the opening on either of the independent school job boards that cover the DC metro area, nor was it on the website of teaching openings for the Archdiocese of Washington, nor did I see it on the jobs board of The Washington Post.
I spent well over an hour on the website exploring before I decided to apply.
In my letter I mentioned several connections. I had done graduate work in education at Catholic University where I was in at least one class and maybe a 2nd with the man who was then the assistant principal. Also, I know the very successful football coach Elijah Brooks, who has now moved over to U of Maryland as running backs coach . Elijah was an 8th grader my last year teaching at Kettering Middle School in 1997-98, and while I did not teach him, he was in a group of 8th graders I took on a trip to visit Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges to expand their idea of the colleges to which they could aspire. Elijah was a running back and point guard for DeMatha, from which he graduated in 2002, before he attended William & Mary.
So how did this all come about?
On my birthday, May 23, I received an email from the Administrative Assistant to the principal, Dr. Daniel McMahon (like Elijah, a graduate of DeMatha) saying he’d like me to come in for an interview. That interview was set for May 30, and was to include the current Assistant Principal Bill Clark, and the Social Studies Chair Michael Curran (and he is also a graduate of DeMatha — starting to see a pattern?).
Dr. McMahon told me to call him Dan, and I reciprocated by telling him to call me Ken. We chatted a bit waiting for the Social Studies chair — Bill Clark was delayed in joining us. Dan started out by talking about the former assistant principal and some of his thoughts about teacher training, and his belief that great teachers were born not made. I responded by noting that while I agreed that there is a natural inclination /talent, how it develops or doesn’t can very much be shaped by how a teacher is first trained and then mentored.
As it happens there were a number of people from the school at which I spent most of my career — nearby Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt — who had overlapped with Dan during his tenure at DeMatha. I knew three fairly well, including the woman who headed our flagship Science and Technology program, through which most of the students I taught first in 9th grade honors Government and later 10th grade AP Government got into the school. Also the 2nd of my 3 principals had started teaching at DeMatha (and IIRC also served as an Assistant to Wootten, although I don’t know if that was for basketball, football [which for a while Wootten also coached] or both). As a side note, both Wootten and Elijah Brooks also taught Social Studies at DeMatha.
The “interview” was more of a conversation and far less structured than any I have ever had for a teaching position.
I had made clear in my cover letter two key points. One is that while I had never taught in a single sex school, I could see the advantages for adolescents. My wife was a graduate of Shipley School when it was all girls, and she credits much of her intellectual development and confidence to that experience. The other is that I am more than comfortable in Catholic settings even though I have never, even in all my religious wanderings, been a Catholic. I have a Masters from a Catholic Seminary earned while an Orthodox Christian, and I did my doctoral work in education at Catholic University. I brought along my transcripts from those two institutions as well as the one from LaSalle University in Philadelphia where I also took several courses. I had occasion to bring them out when Dan described his own wanderings through topics for his dissertation in English (which he teaches, and Bill Clark teaches AP French), and we had a brief conversation about my own academic wanderings.
I mentioned the fact that I knew how respected their music program was, and also noted the number of people who had received the same teaching award from the Washington Post that I had — turns out there was one more, and they had not updated their website. Also, both Dan and his predecessor had similarly been honored as principals.
I thought it was a very positive experience from both sides. After Michael Curran had left to teach a class, as we were ending the conversation I asked what happened next. If I understood correctly, they had decided against an internal candidate because they believed he needed more experience, and that they had interviewed one other external candidate, and that they would have to have some conversations. They promised a decision in no less than one week because in 8 days they had graduation. My last words to them were that I wanted the job.
When I got to school, and had some free time, I sent a thank you letter to all three. I reiterated that I was willing to teach any level of government that they wanted, and was willing to take on a extra class (they pay more for that) if they wanted. Later that day I got very positive responses back from Bill and Dan (and Michael was copied on both as well).
And then I waited.
I expected that I would probably hear on Wednesday, June 5.
I was wrong.
On Tuesday June 4 I got back to my classroom from a meeting that ran late at around 10:10, and when I opened my email saw that 5 minutes earlier I had gotten an email from Dan with the subject line of “Job Offer” and and I sat still for almost a minute before I opened it.
The salary is very generous by independent school standards. I do not yet know if I will be taking on the extra class. That is to be determined. I will not be teaching AP — there will be only one section and that is taught by someone continuing.
I of course immediately accepted via email. At that point I was put in contact with the woman who keeps the calendar for Father James Day, O.SS.T (which stands for the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives, the Trinitarians, which established DeMatha and still oversees it). Father James is the President of DeMatha, and he formally offered me the contract, which I signed this morning, which brought me on board officially. I also had some followup meetings with those who will oversee my work.
I am the same age as the school. Seriously. I was born in May of 1946, and the school opened the following September.
I am very excited about this position. Government is the subject about which I am both most passionate and most knowledgeable. Teaching it to seniors means I am engaging with student who will in all likelihood be able to vote in the 2020 Presidential election, and as long as they turn 18 before the general election are able to participate in Presidential primaries if they live in Maryland while they are 18. I suspect I may be asked about colleges and/or to write some recommendations.
I am very excited — and honored — to be joining the DeMatha community. While I am not a Catholic, there is much in the Catholic tradition I admire — as a music major as an undergraduate much of what I studied what Catholic music, even sometimes (Bach B Minor Mass) written by non-Catholics. I respect the idea of having a spiritual base to the teaching, and helping students develop that on their own. One of the authors who shaped my own spiritual development was Father Louis, to use his monastic name, better known as Thomas Merton. I have also read extensively in classics of Catholic spirituality — the Rule of St. Benedict, works by Ignatius Loyola and by the Carmelite masters Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross, and many others. I note that one elective course involves learning about the Catholic tradition of Social Justice, and it includes studying about three people I greatly admire: Dorothy Day, Pedro Arrupe (and if you don’t know about him you should do some reading, even if just Wikipedia), and Paolo Freire.
I find DeMatha as welcoming a place as I have ever been. Everyone wanted to be sure I knew how glad they were I was coming on board. I also note that there is a great overlap between their approach and things I view as important. For example, the school has a strong school culture, one that is not imposed from the top down, but is created and sustained by everyone. Perhaps that is one reason so many people stay as long as they do. I am replacing a teacher known as Mr. T., who finally stepped down after teaching government at DeMatha for 49 years. You read that right. DeMatha is also a place that values diversity. There are in fact two Jewish faculty members, at a school whose focus is strongly Catholic. Perhaps 10% of the student body is not at least nominally Christian, but only about 50% are at least nominally Catholic. The school also emphasized diversity in racial background and economic status and so on. There is a strong emphasis on service, and the President, Father James, pointed out that the Gospel associated with St. John DeMatha, founder of the Trinitarians some 400 years before the founding of the Jesuit Order, is from Matthew 25, which as I pointed out to him in the Orthodox Church serves as the Gospel for the Sunday of the Last Judgment in Great Lent. That notion — of whatsoever you do unto these the least of the brethren you also do unto me — is what guides the kind of service work expected of ALL students, starting as freshmen.
I genuinely like all of the staff with whom I have interacted. I got to see my room, had an extended conversation with Dan (principal) for about 20 minutes before my meeting with Fr. James (about which more anon), got a chance to chat briefly with my department chair Michael, and talked after with Bill (assistant principal) for about ten minutes.
My conversation with Fr. James (President) lasted just about an hour. He spent time telling me something about himself and his background. He wanted to be sure I felt welcome. He asked me to tell him about me beyond what was in my file. He and I are about the same age, albeit with very different life experiences.
So now you have it. I am officially a member of the DeMatha faculty for the 2019-2020 school year (all contracts in independent schools are year to year). I officially report for orientation on Tuesday August 13. I have copies of my textbooks, and have been told I have a great deal of flexibility for how I want to approach the material.
I cannot wait to get started.