Mrs. Whalen is an English teacher in Bethpage High School. She teachers classes such as AP Language and Composition and Creative Writing. She also leads the school’s Literary Magazine. Some in their high school years detest English class, but Mrs. Whalen makes class into something much more interesting. She’s also incredibly open with her students, and her Creative Writing class creates a great space for students to share an aspect of their skills that not many classes touch upon. We’ve asked these questions to show that teachers of any subject can be interesting…
Eagle’s Cry: Why did you choose to teach English-related classes?
“I guess I always loved books, even from when I was really young, and I have always really liked writing as well, so I feel like those were two natural passions. For why I also thought I might want to do editing, and I felt that, obviously English teaching kind of has a blend of all three of those.”
Eagle’s Cry: Were there any teachers that inspired you to pursue English?
“I took a class in high school that was basically like the college forensics class that we have, but it was for English, and we looked at every kind of lens you could look through–like a feminist, a historical–there’s all these different names to them, I wish I could remember all of them. And every piece we read we kind of looked at it through that lens, like a different perspective on that piece, and I just liked how when she’s teaching us pieces, she never really told us like ‘this is what’s right’ or ‘this is what I think,’ and I kind of feel like I try to do the same thing in my class, kind of have you get to those decisions on your own and not say that this is the one perspective, this is what this symbol means–kind of come to it yourself. Because she was really not trying to get us just to regurgitate whatever she thought, I felt like I’ve tried to do that as a teacher too.”
Eagle’s Cry: What was a hobby you enjoyed as a kid?
“I spent a lot of time reading. I remember my mom telling me that if I got in trouble she would take my books away, which seems kind of funny now, you know, pre-cell phone era it was kind of the punishment that she would give me. I have two younger sisters who I’m really close in age with, so we spent a lot of time together, just outside riding bikes, playing Manhunt outside; just a lot of time outside.
Eagle’s Cry: What is your favorite book to teach?
“I feel like I kind of have a favorite one in every grade. I really love doing Romeo and Juliet in ninth grade, because I feel like they’re totally–they’ve never experienced Shakespeare before, and also kind of innocent, and every time I point something out to them they’re like ‘oh my gosh!’ I also really love teaching Gatsby, in eleventh grade, so I guess maybe those would be my two favorites.”
Eagle’s Cry: Any advice for students looking to go into college?
“I guess my advice would be, if you’re really not sure of what you want to major in, or even if you are, pick a school that has a lot of choices. I feel like some people are dead set on like ‘I’m gonna be a nurse,’ and then they go to a really good nursing school, and they realize ‘I don’t want to be a nurse anymore,’ and they don’t have any other majors that they could possibly be interested in. So I guess I would say if you are unsure, pick something where there’s lots of choices.”
The Eagle’s Cry: What is your favorite part about teaching at Bethpage High School?
“I really like getting to know students and I also like that I have them more than once. There are some kids that I’ve had 9th, 10th, and 11th and I really like that. I feel like most of the kids I come in contact with everyday that genuinely want to be here and care about becoming better readers and writers so that’s really nice.”
The Eagle’s Cry: Did you always want to be a teacher?
“I actually went to school to be a math teacher. I always knew I was going to be a teacher but, I didn’t necessarily know that I was going to teach English. After I took my first English, math and education class. I knew I definitely wanted to do education, but I don’t want to do math.”
The Eagle’s Cry: What is the most interesting thing about you?
“I guess I’ve lived in a lot of places in my life. I was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Massachusetts. I went to college in [upstate] New York and then moved to [Long Island]. I feel like I’ve had to move a lot in my life and that leads me to adapt to new situations. I also feel for kids who are the “new kid.”
The Eagle’s Cry: What was your favorite place to live in?
“I actually think, probably New York. There is the city and hustling life, but there’s also Montauk and beaches. I never lived near the ocean until I moved here.”
The Eagle’s Cry: Where have you traveled to?
“I guess the farthest places I have ever traveled were Puerto Rico and Costa Rica. I would like to travel to Europe and lots of other places in the world, but I feel like now is a bad time.”
The Eagle’s Cry: What was the best place you traveled to?
“I feel like the best place I have ever traveled to was Costa Rica. I know a lot of people almost say it’s cliché but I got a better world view of what it’s really like. We went out to dinner one night and the electricity went out. The waiters just came out with candles and they’re like ‘Your food might just take a little bit longer, we just have to cook it on the fire now instead’. When this happened, I was looking at my husband and I was like, if this happened in the United States, the restaurant would have to close, but there it was nothing. Another time I was in the shower and the water just went out. I called the front desk and they said ‘oh it happens all the time, just jump into the pool’. Their ability to just adapt in situations that would make us totally shut down [did not affect them].”
The Eagle’s Cry: What are some of your hobbies?
“Obviously, I love reading. Last year, for my New Year’s resolution, I tried to read 52 books in a year, like one every week. I got to like 47 or 48, so I was pretty psyched about that. I love reading, and I also really like to ski. I don’t think that’s going to happen this year, though.”
The Eagle’s Cry: Do you have any pets?
“I do! I just got a boxer puppy named Gus. He’s three months old now.”
The Eagle’s Cry: What is your favorite TV show or movie?
“I definitely watch Netflix more than I watch TV. I kind of get hooked on a series then I watch all of it. Most recently I watched Money Heist. It’s so good and I really liked that. I also like things that are more lighthearted.”
The Eagle’s Cry: Who inspires you?
“I have a few students who have inspired me. They really had a rough go recently, they have had a really rough time and yet you would never know it. I feel like I know some of the back story as to why their lives are really rough right now, but yet you can’t tell. You would never know.”