Talk about Talent!

Joy Sawyer Mulligan
With teacher turnover at Thacher mirroring the miniscule numbers of annual student attrition, the Welcome mat outside the faculty room gets light use.

With teacher turnover at Thacher mirroring the miniscule numbers of annual student attrition, the Welcome mat outside the faculty room gets light use. Still, we’re glad it’ll last longer—and delighted to call “colleague” the three newest members of the teaching and coaching faculty.

Eric Shi, who teaches Chinese I through V, brings with him his wife Emily and daughter Linda, presently a student at Ventura Community College. Eric earned his BA in English from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and then went on to serve as an English teacher and dorm parent in schools in China for sixteen years. After moving to the U.S. and earning his Masters in Applied Linguistics from Iowa State, he became a teaching assistant and lecturer there. A visit to Thacher’s website impressed him—“the school as a whole, and in particular, the rigorous academic program”—and he began to think that working here would return him to a place he’d left six years ago: “I believed the program here would help me to find again the sense of success and pride I used to have as a high school teacher of English back in China.”


As a busy classroom teacher, faculty advisor to five Thacher seniors in Upper School, advisor to the Chinese Club, and driver for some athletic events, Eric is fully back in the trenches he loved before. “Students and faculty are intertwined closely together, just as family. Most students are very eager to learn. And not having to cook saves lots of time and energy—which makes us all more efficient and productive.”


One fond wish, in addition to “having fruitful and [full] relationships with [his] students”: to create a table tennis team as an outlet for student interest and his own coaching proclivities.

For Erica Jones, a Dartmouth grad with a BA in Government and African & African American Studies, an email with a catchy subject line—“An Opportunity”—was the beginning of her road to Thacher. The missive, sent by Dean of Faculty Molly Perry, outlined the Thacher Fellows Program and seemed to be aimed straight for Erica’s keen interest in pursuing education as a profession, especially since she’d spent her first post-grad year tutoring students in Oakland public schools and working for the ACLU of Northern California. (She also traveled and volunteered on the Obama presidential campaign.) “I really loved the idea of what Molly described as ‘incremental teaching,’” she recalls—that is, learning the ropes by team-teaching, cross-discipline classroom observation, and hands-on training by an entire department rather than by the more typical here’s-your-classroom-now-sink-or-swim method. The Thacher community was also a big draw: I loved the interaction between faculty and students. The students I [met] spoke very highly of the faculty and their comfort in stopping by their homes for extra help or just to hang out—and raid the fridge, of course.” Erica also had something of an inside line on the School: one of her good undergraduate friends, Stephanie Rauner CdeP 2004, told her that “there’s no better place in the world to start a teaching career.”


Erica survived her first Extra Day Camping Trip—worried about potential attacks by “bear, bobcat, raccoon, mountain lion, or rattlesnake,” she got sophomore Jesse Gates to sleep guard outside her tent—and is now living (in Los Padres) and working (team-teaching U.S. history, co-advising 9th grade girls, co-coaching soccer, co-chairing the Indoor Committee) full speed ahead. Now that she’s been completely absorbed by the community, she offers a few observations: “I feel that Thacher is a school that definitely plays by its own rules and has an incredibly student-centered classroom environment.” Erica’s already looking forward to creating her own history elective, to be offered Winter and Spring Trimesters—possibly a survey course on landmark Supreme Court cases of the Civil Rights Movement, a subject she’s “very passionate about.”  As for all her spare time, she’s hoping to work on some special projects in the College Counseling Office, where she’d put to use her interning experience in the School-to-Career Office at El Cerrito High School.


Erica is deeply thoughtful about her wishes for this year: “that I can learn how to get students to question everything—to strengthen their intellectual curiosity. . . As the self-proclaimed E-generation, we have access to tons of information online, but the danger with this innovation is that we of course can't believe everything we hear and/or read. I hope to learn creative ways to get students to become active learners inside and outside of the classroom. I also hope that I really take advantage of the creative freedom I have here.”


Another new face in the community belongs to Tony Franco, this one with a familiar cast to it: Tony, who graduated from Providence College with a degree in Political Science last spring and prior to Thacher won the Coaches’ Award at Braintree High as a student-athlete, is nephew to Rich Mazzola, Director of Athletics. Tony is splitting his time between Thacher (where he’s helping out as a coach in the football program) and Ojai’s Monica Ros School, where he’s teaching fundamental physical education to kids preschool through third grade.


“I had been to Thacher several years ago,” Tony says of his initial connection to the School, “and remembering its rural location and intriguing sense of community, I decided it was something I wanted to be a part of after graduating from college.”


Under what he calls “the great tutelage of Varsity Football Head Coach Jeff Hooper,” Tony serves as an assistant coach in charge of the defensive tackles and fullbacks, as well as assistant coach (with Bill Omansiek) of the JV squad.


“The most fun I've had being at Thacher has definitely [centered on] the close ties between students and faculty. In college, I was a Resident Assistant in the dorm, and part of my job was to build community on my floor amongst complete strangers. Thacher has that same sense of community ingrained in all those who live, work, and study here; it's what allowed me to feel so comfortable right away.Connecting the dots from his days of high school football success to his present coaching and teaching and on to a possible future, Tony adds, “I would one day like to go back to school, earn a master's degree in counseling, and then lock in a job as a high school guidance counselor—and coach football, as well. And if I do, Thacher will have done a wonderful job at preparing me for the next chapter of my life.”


P.S. So far, none of the three new folks has reported a bear or a rattlesnake encounter. In Erica’s estimation, “That's terrific.”


(We won’t tell her that the year is yet young and that there’s another EDT in the spring.)


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