Westport Educators

Our ten amazing teens named some of their most influential teachers



Principal John Dodig

The September/October 2013 issue of Westport magazine features ten amazing teens. That got us thinking about their teachers. We asked the teens to tell us about one of their mentors.

1. Principal John Dodig. Staples High School. Nominated by Westport Magazine teen to watch Knox Schifeel

On Knox: "Knox is one of those kids as a principle you remember twenty years later. She’s very mature for her age, multitalented, ebullient, and, I think, as I do, sees the world half full instead of half empty. She also has great communication skills, so everyone knows Knox."

On his success: "One would be my mother who was completely non-judgmental, had absolutely no pre-conceived notions about anyone. And the second would be my fourth and fifth grade teacher in New York, Wilmer. I guess he was just the right person at the right time."

My students would describe me as…"eternally optimistic."

2. John Matte. Staples High School. Nominated by teen to watch Wyatt Cook.

On having Wyatt Cook as a student: "He’s a very playfully minded young man. He respects the classroom, but he likes to have fun while learning."

On new tech in the classroom: "You can go a little deeper into topics and turn difficult questions into easy ones with a graphing calculating or a computer. You can do things that before you couldn’t even visualize…I could still teach students calculus if I just had a rock in the classroom, but technology gives an opportunity for more depth."

If I weren’t a teacher I would be…"a puzzle constructor."

3. William Jones. Staples High School. Nominated by teen to watch Max Liben.

On having Max as a student: "[Max was] really involved and positive and engaged and excited by learning."

On a funny moment in the classroom: "Some students at Boys' Latin 'kidnapped' an autographed picture of a famous chemist from me. They then left a series of clues for me. Each one had to be solved and promised to lead to the purloined picture. After quite a long time solving clues, I found the picture attached to the ceiling in the attic of Williams Hall."

My students would describe me as…"hopefully fun, hopefully funny, hopefully fair, and then hopefully informative."

4. Paul Groves. Greens Farms Academy. Nominated by teen to watch Claire Comey. 

On having Claire as a player: "Claire is a thinking player. She’s a person that can take on responsibility and it comes through in the way she plays the game."

On physical educations place in kids lives: "Obviously, it's an avenue that’s been taken away at some level between computers and TV. I think the role in our school, any school, has to be bigger because the lives outside of school are so much more sedentary."

My favorite college course was…"kinesiology."

5. Tricia Rinaldi. Wilton High School. Nominated by teen to watch Tommy Kealy.

On having Tommy Kealy as a student: "Tom's overall persona is one of a quiet leader, and he is willing to work harder than anyone else to achieve his goals. More importantly, he is kind, empathetic and compassionate.”

On her favorite class in college: "Organic Chemistry. I really didn't like chemistry in high school but my organic professor was just amazing and I think I studied biochemistry because of her."

When not teaching, you can find me…"usually at a bikram yoga class, on the tennis court or reading my favorite science fiction novel."

6. Donald Schels. Wilton High School. Nominated by teen to watch Sophie Delfeus.

On Sophie Delfeus as a student: "She was always motivated, a kind caring and hardworking student. She worked towards her goals with a tenacity and character through any challenges."

Most rewarding part of teaching: "Being able to watch kids grow and develop and discover a love for new ideas. I like building independent and free thinkers that can become confident parts of society."

My guilty food pleasure is…"macaroni and cheese."

7. Damien Long. Weston High School. Nominated by teen to watch Jack Seigenthaler.

On having Jack Seigenthaler as a student? “The challenge in teaching someone like Jack…is to meet the needs he has as an adept, sophisticated reader and critic while still making him part of the day-to-day life of the class."

On words of wisdom: "I would be very hard-pressed to provide that reading Shakespeare will have a direct connection to students’ future job prospects, to their ability to thrive in a twenty-first-century world. But I also don’t think that high school, as a whole, should be thought of merely as preparation for an adult career. It also has to be partly about knowledgeable adults saying: 'Here, we want you to experience this stuff, because many people have admired and respected and even loved it, and you may too.' "

My favorite writer is…"I have a particular soft spot for John Updike. He does things with language that can be thrilling and shattering, and when he died a few years ago, I felt like I’d lost a close relative."

8. Kenneth Dunaj. Wilton High School. Nominated by teen to watch Tyler Christensen. 

On Tyler Christensen: “As a learner, Tyler was a proactive student who was willing to go the extra mile to master the concepts and content."

On the best part of teaching: "I enjoy engaging my students rather than being a 'sage on the stage.' Everyone within my classroom is an active learner, including myself. History is more than facts and dates; it is an interpretation of events made by experts." 

My college advice is…"be careful. Many students and parents are more concerned about college choices that their peers are making rather than thinking about their own well-being."

9. Deb Bell. Greens Farms School. Nominated by Westport Magazine teen to watch Alexis Teixeira. 

On Alexis: "She did great work but if you offered her any suggestions, she took every suggestion because she wanted to get even better."

On learning from her students: "As a teacher I strive to create an environment where students try to always do our best. Setting high expectations lets them know that I’m here and they can achieve."

When I’m not teaching you can find me…"playing with my twin daughters, Avery and Kaylee."

10. Jean Maher. Berkshire. Nominated by Westport Magazine teen to watch Riley Kennedy.

On having Riley as a student: "She’s hardworking, always super prepared, good to all of her classmates. She’s a star."

On new technology in the classroom: "New technology has really enhanced our language speaking in school. We have SMART Boards that really allow you to bring in so many more tangible elements.…Technology allows you to travel virtually."

If I could have a superpower it would be…"to understand and speak every language in the world."


William Jones


John Matte


Paul Groves

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