By Emily Butler, Dana DeMartino, and Kerstin Fontanez
The common consensus among students is that teachers have always worshiped the subjects they teach. Most students are under the impression that during a teacher’s own schooling years they were the best at their respective subjects, and the quintessential straight-A student. However, this is not always the case.
Eric O’Connor is a long term substitute for Biology at Walpole High School. He started as a substitute for Lindsey Reichheld in 2014, and came back to substitute for Edward Leitz during the 2015-2016 school year. O’Connor’s first experience in the classroom was student teaching last fall in Quincy. Compared to Quincy, O’Connor’s impression of Walpole was that the students are smart, but sometimes have trouble forming connections.
Because of this, O’Connor is making it his goal to help students at Walpole High achieve higher level thinking, and have more of the ‘aha’ moments he craves.
“I’m really good at delivering information,” said O’Connor, “but I really like seeing when students kind of click. That’s the best moment.”
As dedicated as O’Connor is to his students, he did not think he would end up in the front of a Biology classroom with an apple on his desk. After going to high school in Buffalo, New York, O’Connor attended the Rochester Institute of Technology. From there, he delved into software development and the Biotech industry and worked for medical companies. Then, O’Connor’s career took a surprising turn towards teaching.
“I didn’t like science too much in high school,” he said. “I thought it was really a lot of busy work. I wasn’t really the best at the thing that I ended up teaching.” It wasn’t until college that Biology became more interactive and more interesting for O’Connor.
Although a surprise, O’Connor regarded his transition to education as relatively seamless. He still continues to see his student teaching practitioner as a role model. O’Connor’s practitioner was laid back in the classroom, an attitude O’Connor carries with him to Walpole. O’Connor thinks the most valuable advice to his students is to relax.
“High school is the easiest time of your life. And I know you’re putting so much stress into it, but just take a step back. The only thing that stays is family and you. You just need to understand that things will change. And change is hard but in the end it will work out,” O’Connor said.
In addition to teaching Biology in Quincy, O’Connor helped teach English Language Learning (ELL). One of O’Connor’s most memorable students was a young man named Dave who had arrived at the school in December and had to pass a graduation test in February. Grateful for all the help Dave had received from O’Connor, he called him one day and said, “I’m so thankful, now I can graduate. I can finally graduate and I am in America and I can go to college.”
O’Connor continues to surprise outside of the classroom. His favorite band is Twenty One Pilots, a group more commonly listened to by students than teachers. And although born and raised in New York, O’Connor is a loyal Red Sox fan. O’Connor cooked Thanksgiving dinner for his fiancé and her mother. And of course, his wedding will be anything but ordinary.
“Next summer we’re getting married in this gigantic hotel that used to be a prison. It’s awesome! It sounds weird, but it’s actually awesome,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor inspires students in the classroom by being living proof that change is inevitable. Once a student whose strength was not science, he has become a science teacher. O’Connor is a welcome presence at Walpole High School and will continue to help students discover their love for Biology throughout the year.