A Teacher’s Legacy

Patrick T. Gallagher, Head of School  
Whenever I receive old-fashioned paper envelopes from colleges and universities, I grow excited. Of course, I am not an eighteen-year-old hoping to learn of an admission offer. Rather, I am a school administrator about to learn which of our incredible faculty have been recognized by undergraduates as uniquely impactful on their lives and learning. 

As part of a wonderful tradition, many colleges and universities ask their new students which teachers from their past have helped get them where they are. A student shares the name, then, of the Latin teacher who helped him to truly understand and appreciate language; the coach who helped instill in him discipline and reliance he never knew he had; or the robotics instructor who propped him up through challenge, and even failure, to identify a novel solution. I am lucky to learn of these generous acknowledgments, too, usually copied on the very same letters of recognition my colleagues receive. 

More than a letter, a number of years ago our own Mr. Pat Aliazzi, Reid Chairholder in Western Civilization, was invited by Stanford University as one of our and their own – Anuraag Chigurupati ‘05 – was honored with the Frederick Emmons Terman Engineering Scholastic Award. Anuraag had earned his spot among the top five percent of their undergraduate senior engineering class that year, and he requested that Stanford invite Mr. Aliazzi as “the most influential secondary school or pre-college teacher who guided him during the formative stages of his academic career.”

While there, the dean of the School of Engineering remarked to Mr. Aliazzi that no college professor, but rather teachers like him, actually did all the heavy lifting: “You send us great kids; our job is just not to screw them up.” 

I recall the story often, and not only when I am tearing open one of those envelopes. I recall the story often when speaking with any of our impressive seniors who also happen to be US “lifers,” boys who have attended University School since kindergarten.

I have long taught an AP English Literature & Composition elective to seniors, and my time with those students has been invariably and richly rewarding. They read with discernment, write with precision, and think with imagination. Yet they are more than just excellent students of English. As our topics shift, for example, from the Battle of Agincourt in Shakespeare’s Henry V to the Battle of Gettysburg in Shaara’s The Killer Angels, they are not only flexible in their focus but also capable of making crucial connections between and among our readings. Most important of all, students are “all in” – ready and eager to do whatever is asked of them, including delivering challenging monologues aloud for their classmates and decoding complex scholarly criticism on our course texts. 

I am under no illusion that I alone have imparted to my students all these wonderful qualities, nor do I ever want to take them for granted. Like the college administrator had quipped to my colleague, they basically arrive that way in August of their twelfth-grade year. My experience as an upper school teacher is so consistently fulfilling because, by the time they arrive at the Hunting Valley campus, our boys are equipped and positioned to take full advantage of the immersive and interdisciplinary experiences awaiting them. 

The testimonials included in this issue from US alumni speak powerfully of the foundational work of our lower school teachers in launching them successfully on their journeys. Henry Shapard’s note that US shaped him so dramatically before he “turned 10 years old,” for example, reflects the all-important work of US in these hugely formative years. Their studies as young students encouraged them in their learning to read, write, think, perform, tinker, compete, problem-solve, and experiment. Most important of all, though, their studies helped them to care about their learning. 

My colleagues and I will continue to look forward to those envelopes.

Shaker Heights Campus

20701 Brantley Road
Shaker Heights, Ohio 44122
Phone: 216-321-8260

Hunting Valley Campus

2785 SOM Center Road
Hunting Valley, Ohio 44022
GRADES 9 – 12
Phone: 216-831-2200
University School serves over 850 boys in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 on two campuses in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. The School’s mission is to inspire boys of promise to become young men of character who lead and serve. Dedicated faculty, rigorous curriculum, and experiential programs foster intellectual, physical, creative, and moral excellence. University School is a diverse and inclusive community where each boy is known and loved.