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  • Matthew Zeitz

Teachers Before the Classroom

As students of Edgemont High School, we interact with many teachers daily, but we rarely know them as more than just instructors. I spoke with four teachers who were willing to share their backgrounds.

The first teacher I spoke with was Mr. Hawks, a Special Education teacher at Edgemont for 14 years, who previously taught English at Irvington and Clarkstown high schools. Mr. Hawks went to Loyola University in Maryland, where he majored in English and minored in Communications, while also playing soccer on scholarship.

In 1993, he got his first internship working for the National Basketball Association, and he kept working as an intern during every college break he had until 1996 when the league hired him. As a member of the NBA’s communications department, his work primarily focused on public relations, specifically sports-media relations. This entailed handling on-court issues like crisis communications and also large events like the NBA All-Star Game, NBA Finals, NBA Draft, and Draft Lottery.

Mr. Hawks also gave some examples of situations he and his team were tasked with handling daily. He spoke about some notoriously problematic players who commonly required crisis communications to be sent out for them including Dennis Rodman and Latrell Sprewell.

During the NBA’s 1999 lockout, there was a labor dispute that prevented the NBA season from starting. All NBA employees were unable to talk publicly about the situation, except for 8 members of Mr. Hawks’s department who controlled what information the media received regarding it.

At large events like NBA Finals games, he would be tasked with facilitating the post-game press conferences. He told me about a moment during that time when he had the White House on the phone on hold for Michael Jordan before Jordan told him to tell them he would call them back later.

This story prompted me to ask him about how he handled the interactions he had with celebrities. In response, he told me about how when he was hired, his job primarily entailed transforming from a fan to a professional. He didn’t think of his interactions with players as being too significant because they were necessary to do his job. He needed to be able to build trust with players in a work setting so he could arrange interviews and talk show appearances for them that would reflect positively on them. Up until the pandemic, he would still moderate a press room each year for the NBA draft, and he still gets plenty of calls from people who want some insight into what his experience was like.

Mr. Hawks’s transition to teaching came after he had been a guest speaker at a sports management class a few times. After 9/11, he lost a few mentors of his, and he decided that he wanted to do what they did for him. The best way to do that was by teaching.

The second teacher I talked to was Mr. Scalley, who has been teaching Science at EHS for nineteen years. He began working doing various odd jobs like delivering newspapers at just 10 years old. At age 17, he was already a landscaper, carpenter, and also had a small business doing boat maintenance.

After college, he worked briefly as a financial analyst and then he went back to school to get his master’s degree in cell and molecular biology. By age 28, he was conducting cancer research in a lab. He looked specifically at how proteins called interferons play a role in immunity to certain viruses and cancers. He moved on from that job after his specific research didn’t amount to very much, as he worded it.

However, a few months later, the lab he was working at requested the notes he had from his research back, so he sent them. As it turns out the gene which he had been looking at which he thought to be a pseudogene (one that doesn’t code for anything), turned out to be related to the gene that causes an extremely rare disease called Familial Dysautonomia which afflicts a subset of Ashkenazi Jews and causes their nervous systems to break down over time. Soon after, the lab published its breakthrough and shifted from cancer research to just focusing on that one specific disease. Unfortunately, Mr. Scalley was not credited for his work even though he had done much of the sequencing of the gene.

Afterward, he worked briefly at a new job developing a robotic system to do the DNA testing required for bone marrow transplants and was faced with a decision. He could either continue working to refine the technology to do the testing or accept a teaching position offered in White Plains. Since his current job did not appeal to him much, he accepted the teaching position.

A jack-of-all-trades, Mr. Scalley had many interests growing up but always thought of himself working in a lab doing research and development work. Even though teaching was never something that crossed his mind, he has now been doing it very successfully for over 24 years.

The third teacher I interviewed was Ms. Condos, a Latin teacher at Edgemont for 15 years. Her story began in her gap year between high school and college, which she said ended up turning into “a gap decade plus years.” Born in the UK and raised in Toronto, after high school she traveled across Canada to Banff, Alberta, where she was captivated by the majestic beauty of the Canadian Rockies. First, she worked for a local helicopter skiing company, and then for the Banff Centre for the Arts. Then she landed a job at IATA, the International Air Transport Association, based in Geneva, Switzerland, where she lived for six years. With her job, she was able to travel the world and eventually met her husband, who is from New York, while at an IATA conference in Australia.

After moving to New York, she began working for British Airways. After a short time there, she worked for Lord James Hanson, a wealthy industrialist, and his wife Lady Hanson at their apartment in the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan and once got to fly in their private jet. By this time, she was pursuing her undergraduate degree and for a time also worked for a legal firm while in school. She began as an English Literature major, but then took a Mythology class and fell in love with the Classics. She first learned Latin during a 6-week intensive course equivalent to Edgemont’s entire 7th, 8th, and 9th-grade curriculum. She graduated with a degree in English Literature and Classical studies, and after completing a Master’s Degree, she came to Edgemont.

The last teacher I interviewed was Mr. Coffin, who has now been at Edgemont for 21 years. Mr. Coffin attended Providence College where he was a Division 1 swimmer. He used that experience to become an ocean lifeguard at Jones Beach, where he worked in the summer for over 35 years. He traveled to Puerto Rico for what was supposed to be a 2-week trip but ended up becoming so immersed in the culture that he stayed in a treehouse with just a tin roof, mosquito net, cot, outhouse, and hose for a half-year surfing almost every day.

When he returned, he attended graduate school at Pratt Institute, working different jobs simultaneously. He worked as an art preparator, receiving shipments, managing, and taking care of a gallery in New York City.

He also spent time as a personal trainer and triathlon coach. He also worked for an art shipping and handling company. He described this time in his life as a “typical artist’s life” trying to cobble together multiple different things.

After graduate school, he landed a job as a college professor when he was just 24 years old. He taught watercolor painting, drawing, and portfolio development. Although it sounds like a good job on paper, Mr. Coffin said contrary to popular belief, it is difficult to make it financially as a professor.

He gained an interest in teaching elementary school kids. Ironically, even though he had the equivalent of a Ph.D. in the art world, he needed a separate certification to teach 5-year-olds, so he went back to school. After he got certified, he taught at multiple different schools for about 4 years.

He then left teaching mid-year to take a job as an educational consultant for photographers right when the digital photography industry was taking off. His job allowed him to travel internationally and attend popular events and fashion shows, but that lifestyle did not suit him.

So he went back to teaching and landed at Edgemont, specifically because he saw an opportunity to grow a unique media-based art program, which he has since succeeded in doing.

Overall, it has been interesting to learn about the background of teachers at Edgemont, particularly given that the ones I interviewed pursued paths that seemingly lie nowhere near education. It is also a good reminder that teachers aren’t just people that want to torture you with endless homework. They may actually have valuable experiences to share with us.


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