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#PREPpeople: Jay Pawlyk
Posted 09/06/2018 03:58PM

Jay Pawlyk for PREPpeopleHOMETOWN: Salem, Mass.

EDUCATION: M.A. English Literature, Catholic University of America (1997); B.A. English, St. Anselm College (1995); Diploma, St. John’s Prep (1991)


SUBJECT: English teacher and moderator of SwingTown! Prep a capella group

FUN FACT: “That’s tough. I’m such an open book that most people know most stuff about me. I guess it would be: I have the musical taste of a retirement community resident. My stranded-on-a-desert-island playlist would basically be Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.”

DESCRIBE A TEACHER WHO INSPIRED YOU GROWING UP:There are two I need to mention. Mrs. Takis (Witchcraft Heights Elementary School in Salem). If General Patton taught third grade, that’s how he would run his class. She could tell whether an explanation worked or not, and she could explain something to you in a million different ways. Next was Mrs. Curtis in fourth grade. She was regal. She had 32 nine-year olds in the room and she never raised her voice. She was calm. Deliberate. It was like having Obi-Wan Kenobie at the front of the room. They were two pro teachers from the old school and I had them in consecutive years. If I don’t have those two women in my life, I don’t go to college.”

WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO TEACH FOR A LIVING?: “I didn’t initially envision doing it. I went to grad school with the intent to get a Ph.D. But I stayed in touch with [former Headmaster] Brother Drinan and in 1996, over Christmas vacation, he offered me a job as a campus minister and English teacher. When I asked my grad school advisor what he thought, he said, ‘Go teach high school, and if you want to come back, that’s fine. If you don’t, that’s a great place to work.’ Thank God he said that.”

WHAT EXPERIENCE OUTSIDE OF ST. JOHN’S INFORMS YOUR WORK WITH STUDENTS AT THE PREP?: “I would say doing theater and playing in bands. Performing music and being in plays forces me out of my comfort zone and it forces me to be a student and take direction. It’s also an interestingly public indicator of how good you are at teamwork, or not. There’s an urgency to it and I love that. A classroom full of students is a little like a play. There is blocking. There are lines. Everyone plays a different role. And if you do it right, ideally, your students move around a couple times, and sometimes you deliver your lines while standing, sometimes seated, sometimes you speak loudly, sometimes softly. Every choice you make is motivated by something that has deeper meaning.”

WHAT DO YOU LOVE THE MOST ABOUT WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE EVERY DAY?: “I think the fact that they have no filter. I really like it in an English class. Since a lot of what we do is read books together, if you create an environment with no judgement, they’ll tell you what they think. ‘My brother is just like this character’ or ‘that passage wasn’t believable.’ One of the nice things that, coincidentally, also demands the most work is: Not only is every year different, but every class of kids is different. When you’re teaching 80 kids, that’s 80 different worlds. There’s a lot of variety of life experience and perspectives in those classrooms. That’s 80 different books in terms of the way they’re perceiving something we’re reading. But once the kids feel comfortable with you, that’s what makes it fun and a fertile environment for learning.”
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