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Alumni Spotlight: Joe Addison (’05)

October 25, 2017 / Catherine Nicholas / Blog

Many of our more than 3,200 Governor’s School alumni have become educators dedicated to shaping the minds of future generations. We are proud to recognize some of our alumni who are making an impact in the classroom and beyond.

“I first considered doing something with literature when, after an AP Lit class, Dr. Spencer looked me in the eye and told me, ‘You should pursue this,’” says Joe Addison (’05).  “’This,’” as I understood it, was studying literature and perhaps one day teaching it. Maybe I was mistaken and ‘this’ was behaving better in class.”

“I was not used to that sort of direct feedback, and it never left me. In that spirit, I have also tried to emulate Dr. Spencer in my own teaching and give clear, direct feedback to my students,” he says.

After graduating from Amherst College, Joe accepted a job teaching at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.  He then worked at a charter school in Washington D.C. and an American School in Pachuca, Mexico, before moving to New Haven, CT, where he is currently in his fifth year teaching in the English Department at Hopkins School. “Hopkins was founded in 1660, so it has a rich history and has gone through many transformations over the years,” he says.  “The school has a reputation similar to that of Maggie Walker and attracts a similar kind of student – bright, motivated, immersed in local and global communities, and generally fabulous in the classroom.”

Classes at Hopkins are rarely larger than 14 students, which allows Joe the time to provide thorough feedback on his students’ work.  “I get to know each student’s writing style and to see the evolution of their thinking and their prose,” he explains.  Joe currently teaches English 9, Writing Semester, Heroic Figures in Shakespeare, and Dangerous Books, which are among the 30 English classes offered to students.  “I love each of these courses for different reasons,” he says, “but the content variety alone is a really great part of the job. Because we are an independent school – which brings its own host of problems and ills – teachers can chop, change, and most importantly, manage the pace of each course. This means we can also take time out to address current events as they arise. We have time to discuss Charlottesville, DACA, or events more local to New Haven.”

What’s the best part of the job?  “The students. Of course, it is always the students. Being able to work with students like the ones I studied with at Maggie Walker is hugely invigorating. They keep me humble and constantly reframe the texts we are studying. They force me to be better in and out of the classroom.”

Joe also coaches the boys varsity soccer team.  “Heading out to practice at the end of the school day is something I will never stop being thankful for,” he says.  “Maybe we could one day play a friendly against the Dragons? I see the athletic program collects state championships for fun these days. I should also acknowledge Coach Holdren for demonstrating every single day the value of a coach who creates a community while demanding accountability, effort, and mutual respect.”

The most difficult part of the job is the looming presence of college admissions.  “Students have an eye on it, parents have an eye on it, the school has an eye on it,” he says.  “Thinking about college can be exciting, but I mostly find that it creates stress. From grades to course selection, there is always a bottom line lurking of, ‘How does this affect my college application?’ I worry about how that interferes with the mental and physical health of my students and athletes.”

This year, Joe is mentoring one of the two Penn Fellows who have joined the Hopkins faculty this year.  These are college graduates who teach, while also working toward their own graduate degrees in education. “This has forced me into new roles – both as someone who is responsible for professional training and feedback, and then also as an educator who will be forced to reexamine my own teaching,” he says.  “Reinvention can be painful, but I am happy to (hopefully) help another teacher, while also having the opportunity to reflect on my own teaching practices.”

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