Through the looking glass

By Alexia Boyarsky

When asked to describe their department in five words, the English teachers have some trouble.

“It’s amusing that of all people, we can’t come up with five words,” English teacher Jocelyn Medawar-Turner jokes.

Medawar described the English department as “slightly loopy” and “dysfunctional.”

“But all good families are,” she adds.

After that Medawar hit a case of writers’ block, and “phoned a friend” to help her come up with three more words. Two desks over, fellow teacher Larry Weber, who has been eavesdropping, feigns picking up his phone and answering an imaginary caller.

“I think we’re like a jazz ensemble,” says Weber. “We plan a tune but each person plays their own instrument and improvises with it.” From across the room, Adam Howard laughs and comes over to join the conversation.

“I guess we’re kindly unpredictable,” Howard says. “We do a secret Santa thing for people’s birthdays, where at the beginning of the year we raffle names and then one person is in charge of organizing that person’s birthday,” he explains. “It’s stuff like that, we do nice things and we all like cake.”

“Dr. [Heath] Moon is the one that likes cake,” Medawar says.

“Don’t listen to them, they all like cake,” Moon comments from his desk.

“In any case, [Moon] makes sure we cut the it by nine-o-clock, or else he gets upset,” Medawar said.

“Yes, but it’s not just that he gets a bit upset,” Weber comments. “With him, it’s a moral outrage.”

This playful atmosphere penetrates throughout the English department, despite its reputation for being prone to utter silence.

“There are times when this department is more serious than others,” says Medawar. “There is a lot of planning, grading and reading that goes on, but there’s something nice about sharing the silence.”

“We also have occasional outbursts of madness,” English teacher Lisa Rado adds. “We can go from discussing imagery in a Yates poem to making a dirty joke to having a heated political discussion or talking about sports.”

With many avid sports fans in the room, the discussion often turns to sports.

“Sports is the glue that keeps people together,” newcomer Eric Olson says. “It’s something we can all talk about.”

Weber and Howard have even combined their sports with being “kindly unpredictable.” For each of their birthdays they surprise each other with a photograph of an athlete who wears the jersey number of their age. This year, Weber received a photo of Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals who wears the number 45. Howard, described as “obsessed” by his colleagues, follows baseball, football and hockey.

“We indulge him sometimes,” Medawar says.

“And by indulge, I mean we nod at him and walk away,” Weber clarifies.

With a desk plastered by hockey player’s photographs, Howard displays his passions visibly.

“I’m all about sports, England and theater,” Howard says. “You can tell just by looking at my desk.”

This type of memorabilia surrounds the desks of all of the teachers. Although all of them contain mostly neat stacks of books and graded papers, individual mementos set each desk apart and contain gifts from students, from children, from colleagues, past and present, and individual favorites.

“My desk is just an extension of my home,” Medawar said, pointing to a desk overflowing with small statues, surrounded by Shakespeare magnets and draped with posters.

“She’s the best accessorized of us all,” Moon jokes about Medawar’s desk.

Among her favorites is a stuffed animal bookworm from the school bookstore, a Tinkerbell figurine which Medawar loves because “Tink always wanted to kill Wendy,” and models of figures from the Lewis chess set, a twelfth century chess set from Norway.

Medawar also has a fridge tucked under her desk.

“Yes, I’m the keeper of the fridge,” she says. “I brought it in for myself, but the whole department can use it. Occasionally, I have to throw old food out, but the system works pretty well.”

Many teachers also have props they use in class, most notably, a witches cauldron kept under Moon’s desk, used to demonstrate the witches chant from Macbeth, and the iron crown kept on Jennifer Raphael’s desk, used to crown Lady Macbeth. Moon’s desk also contains a little “scene” he set up. Models of a Cycladic harpist and a Victorian harpist face a statue of the Maltese Falcon.

“These ladies are wooing him, but the Falcon is completely impervious to them,” Moon explains.

Although all of the teachers often work individually at their desks, one aspect of the office ties them all together. The window.

“I love the window,” Moon said. “When I came here and I was given this desk, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”

The window spans across the entire office, and can be seen from every desk. Most of the teachers say that they spend a lot of time watching the window.

“Yeah, about once a month a bird will smack into the glass,” Howard says. “I think it’s funny.”

“Well, that’s a good thing, because all literature is about death anyway,” Weber jokes back to Howard.

“It’s very secluded,” Geraldine Harding says about why the window is so fascinating. “Almost no students walk by, and we watch the birds and the butterflies. We’re very easily amused.”

This type of quiet laughter seems to penetrate the department’s office. When there are students in the room, conversation abounds, but sometimes the room lulls into silence.

“It’s very peaceful, working in silence,” Medawar says. “You know you’re surrounded by brilliant people who are all doing the same things you are.”

“We’re very serious about what we do, and we work very hard to do our best,” Medawar says. “But even though learning is a serious thing, we know that learning should be seriously fun.”