TOADTalk: The Luckiest Math Teacher

To begin his last TOADTalk, Pete Fagan quoted Lou Gehrig: “Today, I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Each week, an All-School Assembly launches with the Teacher On Active Duty (TOAD) sharing something of interest—a reflection, a story or song, a demonstration of some sort, or a simple poem. In this way, the community gets to know one of our own a little better. Recently, our TOAD was Peter Fagan, who (along with his wife, Ann Merlini) will retire from Thacher at the end of this school year. During his years at Thacher Mr. Fagan has taught math, served as athletic director, coached girls’ varsity tennis to two consecutive CIF championships, and coached boys’ varsity tennis to a league championship.  His TOADTalk is below.

July 4, 1939, baseball legend Lou Gehrig stepped to the microphone in front of 70,000 fans in Yankee Stadium. Gehrig was known as the iron-man of baseball because a couple of weeks prior to this day, he had played a record 2,130 consecutive games. Arguably at the time, he was considered the best baseball player of his time and many think he is one of the best of all time. He was a giant of a man and an American hero. But on this day, he was to give a speech announcing his retirement from the sport he had given his life to. The reason for his retirement is that a few weeks prior, Gehrig had been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord of which there is still no cure. A disease that would eventually take his short-lived life.

As he stepped to the microphone, Gehrig took perspective of his life, knowing that he only had a short time left, and announced to the crowd, "Today, I'm the luckiest man on the face of the earth." This was a speech that would define Gehrig's journey. A heroic effort, full of humble thought and thankfulness for what he had and not the natural fear for what lay ahead.  A speech that has been played countless times on a reflection of a life well-lived.

So today, it's my turn. It's my time to reiterate what Lou Gehrig said 80 years ago…, "Today, I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the earth." 

In a few short weeks, I'll retire from a profession which I've done for 30 years. It's a profession that has brought me across the country, let me work in three different public schools, three different private schools, and has brought me more joy than I could have ever possibly imagined. A profession that I feel that I've been blessed to have found and will be ever grateful for the opportunities and life that it has created.

I'm the luckiest man for teaching and working with so many incredible students over the years; students who I got to see come in as wide-eyed freshmen and leave as savvy seniors off to their next adventure. I'm lucky to have seen my students grow up to be doctors, lawyers, musicians, entrepreneurs, activists, mothers, fathers, and yes, teachers. Students that didn't know what they were going to do when they left school, only to find passion and fulfillment in their lives and tell me all about it years later. That is quite something.

I'm lucky to have worked with so many talented, dedicated, and committed colleagues; fellow teachers that set the standard for professionalism. Teachers that opened their homes and hearts to their students without question, day in and day out. Teachers that have impacted all the young lives they have encountered and that many of you will fondly remember for years to come. I am lucky to call many of my colleagues… lifelong friends. 

I'm lucky to have survived ice storms, snow days, wildfires, norovirus, zoom, and yes, hopefully, coronavirus.

I feel blessed that I've had a job that encouraged me to explore the great outdoors; a job where they actually paid me to go into the wilderness, sleep under the stars, hike, bike, and kayak into some of the most picturesque places on earth. How cool is that?

I got to bear witness to thrilling triple overtime victories over the Cate school, late-game heroic winning goals in soccer, and a first-hand view of big-shot Rob Carney hitting a half-court buzzer-beater.

I'm lucky to have felt the joy of coaching and experience the satisfaction of kids seeing the tangible results of their hard work. I'm lucky to have watched them handle defeat with dignity and experience the feeling of pride when presenting CIF championship trophies to their School.

I'm lucky to have known students whose lives were cut short by others and ones that cut short their own lives.

And I'm truly lucky to be married to the best Middle School dorm head, riding instructor, and most supportive, caring, and compassionate person I'll ever know. I'm lucky she tapped me on the shoulder that day. Shout out to Ms. Merlini.

I started my career teaching in a classroom that was built in 1930 with slate chalkboards, clanging radiators, and getting spitballs shot at me and now I'm finishing my career teaching in a new, modern, and invigorating space that is the pinnacle of learning and teaching. How lucky is that?

As they say, If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. That said, I'm lucky for never having worked a day… over the past 30 years.

Thanks for listening.

[Photo: Pete giving a TOADTalk January 2009]

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