As another school year draws to a close, WSHS is not only saying goodbye to the outgoing Senior Class, but to several retiring faculty members. Guidance counselor Mr. Scanlon, science teacher Ms. Valinski, and math teacher Mr. Pitkin are just a few of the dedicated staff members who are retiring at the end of this school year. Between them, these staff members have a combined 57 years of working at WSHS. These individuals have helped shape our school community for years and will be missed by students and staff alike.
Mr. Scanlon has worked at WSHS for 19 years. He started as a teacher in the Computer, Business & Technology Department, transitioned to career counselor, and in 2005 became a guidance counselor. He chose this career because, “I believe it is a great honor to work with students who be be our next generation of responsible citizens and future leaders.” Counselor Ms. Allman can attest to Scanlon’s love of his job; “He brings an energy and enthusiasm to working with kids and he rarely has ‘off’ days.” Being a counselor requires lots of patience and commitment, which, according to those who work with him, Scanlon has plenty of.
Throughout the years, there have been many changes in his job. “School counselors use to spent a lot of time ‘firefighting’: dealing with an individual students current academics, attendance or social issues. Now, we spent more time on ‘fire prevention’: working with students individually and in groups to develop skills to improve their performance and to plan for what comes after high school,” Scanlon explained.
Of course, there are many challenges to the job, and Mr. Scanlon has had to learn how to address these challenges. Ms. Allman remembers the first day of school that Mr. Scanlon was working as a guidance counselor. The first day of school is always very busy in guidance because many students have holes in their schedules or classes that they wish to change. She noted that by the end of the long day, Mr. Scanlon seemed a little overwhelmed, sitting silently in a chair by the reception desk nicknamed “therapy chair”. However, he adjusted well to the demands over time, and today he firmly believes that the most difficult part of his job is “keeping up with email!”
No matter the challenges, the job offers many rewarding moments with students and colleagues. His favorite part of the job is, “working with students to find out what careers interest them and how to find a path to work in that career.”
The diversity of students at WSHS also makes for memorable moments. Mr. Scanlon’s most proud moments include seeing students overcome the odds and reach success. He noted that, “Sooner or later, whatever happens anywhere in the world, happens here and to our students.” Students also appreciate Mr. Scanlon’s dedication to individualizing their schedules to meet their interests. Abigail Murphy, sophomore, said Mr. Scanlon helped her to fit an independent study for piano into her schedule. “He was very helpful and focused on making sure it worked out for me,” stated Murphy.
Mr. Scanlon will not only be missed by students, but fellow staff members as well. Counselor Ms. Sibilia said, “He started many traditions in our department that I hope we will continue.” Whether it is his work organizing the career panels that help students explore future opportunities that will be of interest to them, or playing trivia games within the guidance department, Mr. Scanlon will be missed by many. “I will miss our lunchtime conversations where we solve many problems,” said Ms. Sibilia. As he prepares to leave his job, Scanlon is looking forward to spending more time with family. To future faculty members Scanlon advised, “the more I listened and asked questions of both students and faculty, the better I got at my job.”
Science teacher Ms. Valinski has taught at WSHS for 23 years. She has seen many changes to the school over that time, including the construction of the new building which she recalls as one of her most memorable experiences as a teacher here. The construction of a new building led to other changes, including the introduction of additional technology into the classroom. “The addition of technology has made teaching both harder and easier. It is harder as students are distracted by their phones and social media. It is easier as there is so much on the internet that can be used to help students understand the concepts,” she stated.
According to students and colleagues, Ms. Valinski also has a special knack for teaching students difficult concepts. “She is awesome at coming up with simple analogies or relevant examples to explain challenging concepts,” stated Physics teacher Ms. Grillon. “Her stories make class engaging and interesting,” said sophomores Julia Harris and Lola Casillas. Despite her teaching abilities, Valinski never intended to become a teacher. “I did not choose to teach. I discovered that I am a teacher. I took a job teaching at STCC and realized it was the profession that called to me,” she said.
Of course teaching can be difficult but the part of her job that Ms. Valinski finds the most challenging is that “Teachers are not trusted to make decisions about teaching. Society, legislatures, and testing agencies have more power and the profession has become a political scapegoat for the problems of society.”
No matter the challenges, it is evident that Ms. Valinski clearly loves her work. Her dedication and compassion have made her a valuable member of the staff. “I love working with Ms. Valinski. She is organized, efficient, caring, and she really knows her content. Whenever I was looking for a lab activity to aid student understanding or an alternative way to present a concept, Ms. Valinski was always willing and able to give me useful activities or methods,” added Ms. Grillon.
She has helped those around her with more than just science concepts. One lesson that those around her learn is how to be a good person. “Ms. Valinski is an excellent listener and a very kind, empathetic person. I value her warmth and kindness, and many of her former students have shared with me how much her care and concern meant to them,” continued Ms. Grillon. As she prepares for her well deserved retirement, Ms. Valinski advised that future teachers find balance in their jobs, noting that, “You can not take care of others if you do not care for yourself. Teaching can take over your life, literally 24/7. Don’t let it.”
WSHS will not be the same once she retires. Colleague Ms. Grillon said,”I’ll miss her love of color and art. She finds the artistic beauty in chemical crystals, the colors in the rainbow, and on and on. I’ll miss the joy she takes in linking science to everyday life, and how much she cares about everyone.”
Mr. Pitkin has taught at WSHS for 14 years. He is described as “one of the best teachers in our department” by math teacher Ms. Livingstone. He is known for his ability to help students master difficult math concepts, and his guidance has meant alot to them. “He not only teaches teens the curriculum, but helps shape them into positive members of the community,” stated math teacher Ms. Dionne. This is easier said than done, as getting students excited about math can be a challenge. Mr. Pitkin stated, “The most challenging part of my job is interacting with a lot of people and trying to motivate them to work hard to understand difficult math concepts.”
The effort that Mr. Pikin puts into his work is worth it. He describes his favorite part of the job as “being able to interact with a lot of people and to watch them work hard and struggle with difficult math concepts and suddenly ‘get it’.” Of course, it requires a dedicated teacher to get students to this level of understanding. According to Ms. Dionne, “Mr. Pitkin constantly leads by example to demonstrate what a phenomenal teacher ‘looks like’: he always creates interactive, engaging lessons that include reasons for learning the material and applying the topics to real life.”
Mr. Pitkin has not only helped his students improve, but his colleagues as well. “He uses warm ups in his class to help students review older material which is something that I started to do because of him. They are a great start to my class every day.” said Ms. Livingstone.
Mr. Pitkin has made many memories through his years at WSHS. One of his most memorable moments was a student who gave him a handwritten thank-you card after he helped her to believe in her own math abilities. “At the end of her freshman year a student who had had difficult times with math in the past, stopped by to thank me for encouraging her and believing in her math abilities. She told me she had more confidence after taking my class,” recalled Pitkin. These rewarding moments make the hard work worthwhile.
Though teaching is rewarding, one must learn to evolve and do the job differently as times change. One of the biggest challenges Mr. Pitkin faces is the inclusion of technology into student’s lives. “Teaching is about building relationships with students. I find that technology interferes with that sometimes because people tend to have less patience and want more instant gratification. It seems that fewer students are willing to work through problems. No grit. I attribute a lot of that to cell phones and the obsessive need to be in constant contact with family and friends. People waste so much time on the phone, and if not on it, just thinking about being on the phone,”he noted.
As he finishes out his final days at WSHS, he is grateful for the opportunities this career has given him. Pitkin chose to work as a teacher because he found the work interesting.He started as an ESL teacher and later earned his math license. The idea of summers off also appealed to him, “You just can’t beat teaching for time off with family,” he stated.
For future teachers Pitkin agreed with advice given to him when he started his first teaching job in Westfield, “Plan your work and work your plans. Always over prepare. Find ways to get students talking to each other in class. Learn some simple cooperative learning activities and use them frequently to engage the students. An engaged class is a happy class. One philosophy I try to follow, is that the person doing the talking in class is doing the learning. Get the students talking. And never forget the two best things about teaching: July and August.”
Mr. Pitkin will be missed by students and staff. “He knows so much and I have learned so much from him,”said Ms. Livingstone. Ms. Dionne agreed, and referred to Mr. Pitkin as her mentor, as she has taught with him for several years. “He always has a solution no matter what you ask of him, and is always happy to help. He has a way about him that always makes you strive to push yourself and do your best!”
The Terrier Times would also like to congratulate other retirees during the 2018-2019 school year:
Douglas Hill- Teacher
William (Bill) Braddon- Grounds
Coreen Lemieux- Paraprofessional