FACULTY FOCUS: Fenwick Theology & Film Teacher John Paulett

Renaissance Man: Clevelander, Golden Apple winner and Fenwick Theology/Film Teacher for the past 12 years, Mr. Paulett also is a writer, musician and theater aficionado.

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Mr. Paulett enjoying his vacation in Paris, France, this summer.

What is your educational background?                  

JP: My undergraduate degree was in Linguistics and Classical Languages from Georgetown University. I have a Master’s degree in Theology from Felician University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. During my Golden Apple Sabbatical, I began a doctoral program in religious studies at Northwestern University.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

JP: I taught for 10 years while I was in my twenties — at Lake Catholic High School in Cleveland and then at Kent State University, where I was doing doctoral work in theater and film. I then left teaching for family reasons and went into business. I had planned to work in business for two years but it turned into 25 years. I had always planned to return to teaching. When my daughter was through college, I had my opportunity and joined Fenwick.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?               

JP: I always have several books going at the same time. Right now, I am reading David Brooks’ new book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. I am also reading a history of the Second World War in the Aleutian Islands. Rounding that out is Wasn’t That a Time? — the story of the folk singing group The Weavers. 

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

JP: I am a theater fanatic. In most weeks, I attend two or three performances. I love opera and subscribe to the Lyric Opera. I also subscribe to the Chicago Symphony, the Music of the Baroque and three theater companies. I fill in the other nights with smaller theaters and films at the Gene Siskel Center. I am a writer (I have four books published) and am active writing almost every day. I have a new book in progress that I hope to finish by fall. I play music (guitar, banjo, mandolin) and usually pick up an instrument for a few minutes every day.

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

JP: When I was in high school [at St. Ignatius in Cleveland], I was a member of the Debate Team and was fortunate to have some success. I was also in the theater. I acted in several plays and, during my senior year, wrote and directed a play. I sang in the choir and played in a rock band. I was a dreadful athlete and got cut from every sport I attempted. I wrote for the school newspaper and, for a while, published an underground newspaper. The teachers caught me running this off on the mimeograph machine and the paper was ended.

Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?

JP: I have moderated a variety of groups at Fenwick. I was the chess coach and the moderator of Touchstone [the student literary magazine] for several years. I directed the spring musical and was music director for Banua. I have been the moderator of the Photography Club for the last few years. Next year, I will guide the new Film Club.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

JP: Fenwick students generally have a seriousness of purpose that sets them apart. I teach Moral Theology. In that class, we study philosophers such as Kant, Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Most students will not encounter these thinkers until junior year of college. Fenwick students deal with this advanced content with thoughtfulness and diligence.

When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?

JP: I was deeply affected by several teachers in high school, probably none more than my speech teacher Mr. William Murphy. He was an intense, rigorous and sometimes difficult man who drove, excited, demanded and inspired his students. I suppose that my desire to become a teacher started with a hope to be like Murph. I have been very blessed in my life, and I think I have an obligation to give back. Teaching has been the best way I have found to return what I have been given.

What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?

JP: Parker Palmer, who writes about teaching and teachers, has said that success in the classroom comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. I was able to study with Parker for two years. One of the things that I learned from him is that teachers need to be authentic and vulnerable. I care deeply about every one of my students. I hope they see that. I try to be creative and innovative. I like using technology to create a more participatory class environment. I also try to bring my sense of humor into the classroom. Most of all, I love my subjects. I try to make my passion for the content material open enough to engage and embrace my students.

What are your favorite classes to teach?

JP: The class I teach most often in Moral Theology. I think this course is both important and interesting because it challenges the way we think. It asks important questions such as, “What is truth?” and “Are some things actually good and bad, or is it just a matter of opinion?” I also teach History and Theory of Film. This is a special joy. Many people watch movies; only a few enter into the beautiful art of cinema. My students are exposed to the classics of film along with the cinema of many different countries. This gives them a chance to expand and increase their ability to enjoy all types of movies at a fuller and deeper level.

What is the greatest success you have had in teaching? ​

JP: On an external level, the greatest success was being awarded the Golden Apple for Teaching Excellence in 2013. It was a thrill that is difficult to describe. Bigger and more important successes happen every day. When a student says, “I never thought of that before,” I have succeeded. This year, a film student told me that he had been certain he would not like a Japanese film we were studying. After our discussions, he said that it was now his favorite film. Whenever a student is transformed, I count it as one of my greatest successes.

What challenges face students today?

JP: The speed of change is greater than anything experienced in the history of the world. Thomas Friedman claims that the year that changed history is 2007. He cites the iPhone, cloud computing and social media as a few of the substantial changes that happened that year. Our students are facing changes that rival or exceed the Industrial Revolution, but they are seeing them more quickly than any generation before them. I once asked an executive at Google what he was looking for in new employees. He answered, “Creativity and collaboration.” Students need to achieve flexibility and [have] an ability to learn — often to learn skills and information that did not exist just a year or so earlier.

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Mr. Paulett took an Eiffel Tower selfie in June!

FACULTY FOCUS ARCHIVES

Humble in Victory, Proud in Defeat

Like strong support of an argument, good mentors come in threes.

By John Paulett

St. Ignatius was established in Cleveland in 1886.

Perhaps it is a bit of nostalgia. It has been almost 50 years since I graduated from high school. That is enough time to make things appear better than they were. But when I remember the teachers that had the greatest effect on me, I am pretty sure my memories are something more than nostalgia. There were some giants in my classrooms — teachers who changed many lives, including mine.

I went to St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio. The experiences were the same, I think, for students at Fenwick, Trinity, De La Salle, Leo, Mother McAuley and so many great Catholic schools with so many great educators. Three teachers come immediately to my mind.

Father John Miday, S.J., liked his arguments in threes, former student John Paulett recalls.

When I am writing or speaking today, I always form my arguments into a group of three. That comes from Father Miday, an imposing Jesuit who taught Senior English. I once answered a question he posed with just two proofs. He stared at me and his body seemed to rise up until it filled the front of the room. With a voice that rumbled from the floorboards, he said, “Do not triangles have three sides? Are not the ancient pyramids made of threes? Why, God himself! Is God not a three? And yet, young Mister Paulett has asked us to accept his argument with only two arguments.” The word “two” withered. It turned as it fell to the ground in a lonely death. I have never since tried to support a claim with less than three arguments.

I was not a football player but I knew and admired Coach John Wirtz as much as any Ignatius man. He had been at the school for many, many years. The Coach had a list of sayings, motivational phrases, I suppose, that he had mimeographed and distributed through Freshman Religion classes. We were told to memorize the adages. When Coach Wirtz met a student in the hall (not just a football player–any student), he would check on how well we had learned the lessons.

Mr. John Wirtz taught freshman religion and coached the Wildcats’ football and basketball programs for decades.

“How are you in victory, son?”

“Humble, sir.”

“And in defeat?”

“Proud, sir.”

“How do you come to the field?” Continue reading “Humble in Victory, Proud in Defeat”

If Geese Flock, How Will Your Child React?

Being a kid today is not easy. But then again, it never was, which is why Catholic schools such as Fenwick teach both ‘résumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues.’

By John Paulett

Mr. Paulett is a Golden Apple-winning Moral Theology Teacher at Fenwick.

One of our graduates, currently a student at a university in Indiana, sent me a copy of an article she wrote for the college publication. Her essay told about a college student being transported to the hospital for excessive consumption of alcohol.

“’Four guys carried this kid downstairs limb by limb and they sat him down, and he could barely sit in the chair, and we tried to wake him up, but he was unconscious,’ (a witness) said.”

The article, written on October 10th, stated that, “21 students were hospitalized for alcohol consumption in the fall semester of last year, 20 students have already been hospitalized in the first half of the fall semester this year.”

I am a parent as well as a teacher, and I know these are frightening stories to read. They remind us that young people often face situations that are new and uncertain. Young people can make bad decisions, sometimes because pressures take the place of good judgment.

When I think about young people confronted by difficult choices, it brings to mind a dramatic incident from 2009. On January 15th of that year, minutes after takeoff, US Airways flight 1549 struck a flock of geese. The collision happened at 3:27:11. The plane’s pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully, they called him,) radioed a Mayday call at 3:27:33. At 3:31 p.m., less than five minutes later, the pilot landed the plane in the Hudson River. His recognition of the problem, creation of a plan, and execution of the action happened in minutes. Like most people, I found the Captain’s ability to solve the problem and land the plane in such a short time almost unbelievable. (Actor Tom Hanks portrays him in the 2016 motion picture, “Sully.”)

Captain Chesley Sullenberger

I read an interview with Sullenberger in which he was questioned about his ability to act so well so fast. He said, “I had to very quickly come up with a paradigm of how to solve even this problem.”

His response reminds me of what happens in Catholic education. Continue reading “If Geese Flock, How Will Your Child React?”