Up close with our Top Teens' favorite teachers

Top Teachers

In our latest issue, we featured some stellar teens. We asked our Top Teens to nominate their favorite teachers, then we sat down with these educators to see what makes them tick. Here's what they had to say. 

Teacher: OJ Burns

School: Greens Farms Academy

Nominated by: Sophie Tepler

To the sorrow of the entire GFA community, OJ Burns is retiring after a 39-year long career. Upon much self-reflection the English teacher, known for his quick wit and open-minded literary approach, has come to realize why he loved and went into the business of molding minds.

What he’s going to miss the most: That’s easy, laughter. I walk in every day and I always have great stories to tell. I just had so much fun.

Teaching approach: I don't want them to come in understanding everything. I want them to learn that although this may make you a little anxious, it can be very positive in terms of making you think a little harder.

Favorite grade to teach: Ninth grade. It's the first year that abstract thinking, particularly about literature, begins to make sense. So there’s an excitement there that I just love.

Teacher: Ian Campbell

School: Greens Farms Academy

Nominated by: Conor Eckart

Teaching A.P European History and the History of Human Origins is Ian Campbell’s job, but it’s not all he does at GFA. Between heading the History Department, advising Model UN, and mentoring for the global history program, this fashion-fanatic could teach us all a thing or two about the meaning of work ethic.

Why he loves Model UN: I love the global component. One of our requirements is international relations theory. The get very into learning about modern affairs, and model UN fits into that well.

What he likes about GFA: You have no place to hide in a class of 15.

When I go off topic I’m usually talking about: Clothes and the history of fashion, or the Lord of the Rings. The kids all know that if they want to get me off topic to questions about Lord of the Rings.

Teacher: Max Gabrielson

School: Wilton High School

Nominated by: Paige Wallace

Max Gabrielson has taught at WHS for a dozen years. A Latin and Greek teacher, his passion and creative teaching style succeed in making a “dead” language relevant to the sometimes fickle minds of teens.  

What he’s learned about teens: I have learned what I sometimes tell them: their childhoods are over, and yet they are still not adults. That can be a very tough, lonely place to be. But it definitely gets better. Most Americans are happy to move on from adolescence and enter the ranks of adulthood.

College advice: Take charge of your lives and your laundry.

First thought upon waking: I am so glad I am no longer practicing law.

Teacher: Keith Gonnelly

School: Hamden Hall

Nominated by: Zachary Bayer

Keith Gonnelly teaches Intro to Medieval History, U.S History, and two courses he developed himself, Islam and the History of Art and Architecture. A collector of hobbies and interests, he brings his enthusiasm for life into the classroom and makes it a fun environment of interactivity and enjoyable learning.

Millennial Changes: It’s very different. I’m old school. I came up when the pencil was a hot item. All of the technology, it’s not daunting because the kids love it. They light up when I have a computer problem; I think it makes their day.

Favorite hobby: Driving on the open road. I used to be a limousine driver. Also spending time with my wife. She’s my inspiration!

Favorite TV Show: Frasier. I love the humor of it.

Teacher: Kristina Harvey

School: Wilton High School

Nominated by: Kyle Dedrick

Kristina Harvey, a previous college professor, has been teaching English and journalism for 9 years at Wilton High School. She loves her job and her students, and is truly the type of teacher that makes her class a breath of fresh air.

Teaching Approach: Students respond to humor and to relevance. I have found that when we are laughing, we are learning. Also, if students can feel a relevance between what we are learning and their lives, they are more willing to explore new ideas and techniques.

First thought upon waking: I usually wake up at 2am thinking about a student at risk or going over an upcoming lesson plan. Teaching is a 24 hour / 7 day-per-week job.

When you're not teaching you can be found: Sailing with my family.

Teacher: Deanna LaMarco

School: Weston High School

Nominated by: Brian Lamy

Deanna is the wild card of this group, an academic support advisor at Weston High School. She instructs a special English class and helps in the areas of brainstorming and organization, but her main duty is to be on-call for her students: her compassion and value to them is evidenced by her spot on this list.

What she loves about advising: Every day is a different day in special ed. teaching. You never know what you’re going to do. It's a nice job, it's a fun job. It doesn't get boring for sure.

If I could have a superpower it would be: The ability to read people’s minds.

Sports team: The Yankees, but I enjoy watching Tennis and Gymnastics more than baseball.

Teacher: Julia McNamee

School: Staples High School

Nominated by: Stevie Klein and Connie Zhou

Julia McNamee, an English and journalism teacher, effortlessly charms. With her maternal instinct and contagious love of literature, it’s no wonder she’s the favorite amongst not one but two of our top teens.

Benefits of teaching high school: I love the eclectic nature of a high school curriculum: I can teach Shakespeare and Caribbean literature, advise the paper and also the debate team. I also think high school students are less jaded than college students.

Favorite writer: My favorite dead author of prose is Jane Austen and live is Ian McEwan; my favorite dead author of poetry has to be Shakespeare and live is Mary Oliver.

Favorite food: Artichokes and hot croissants (not together!)

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