With the departure of Julie Fox so early in the school year, both administration and students were worried about who would replace her as the school’s only Latin teacher. Principal Christopher Mastrangelo described Fox as being “so incredible” and that “to lose and replace [her]” was not easy. Still, the staff was excited for Fox because she took an opportunity closer to her home.
During the few weeks after Fox left, the school was trying to figure out the best way to organize Latin classes this year. They had to determine exactly how many sections of Latin were needed based on enrollment and if there were people out there certified for the job. Mastrangelo described the struggle, saying that, “a good Latin teacher shows up [and] everybody wants a piece of it.”
Due to these difficulties, the administration considered an online schooling program for students, which turned out to be out of the school’s price range. In the midst of all this, a posting was put online and Forrester Hammer stumbled upon it while looking for a job after recently completing his graduate degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He had received his undergraduate degree from Harvard College.
Hammer was immediately interested in the position because of Malden’s diverse community and the “student-centered values” at the high school. Mastrangelo recounted that Hammer’s resume was “incredible.” His references stood out as he had prior experience student-teaching at Amherst-Pelham High School in Western Massachusetts, as well as teaching college classes as part of his graduate program at UMass Amherst.
During the interview process, Holland House Principal and former member of the World Language Department, Marta Cabral, saw that Hammer had a “wealth of knowledge about the content area” that they did not see in other applicants, so they knew right away they wanted him on board.
Mastrangelo agreed with Cabral, saying that what stood out to him the most about Hammer was “his love for the content area” and how excited he was to talk about it. In addition, Hammer was very authentic in his interview, “fully aware of what his strengths were and where he needed to improve,” which is not something often seen in interviews.
He elaborated, “when you are interviewing, you want to accentuate what your positives are, and stay away from the areas of growth,” but Hammer embraced his areas of growth “as much as he embraced his positives.”
Before hiring Hammer, the school had decided to shuffle the students that were taking Latin I and II and put them in different language classes because they were not certain if they would be able to find an applicant at this point in the school year. Currently, only the upper-level Latin classes are available, as they are now being taught by Hammer.
Cabral commented that there is no saying if beginner Latin classes will be offered again in the next school year, just because there is a demand for so many languages. She mentioned that Mandarin and American Sign Language are among the two that seem to be strong desires from the students at Malden High.
So far, Hammer is enjoying teaching at Malden High, despite everything being so new for him. Both teaching high school and to be teaching during a pandemic is something that he is still adjusting to. Even so, Hammer believes that the people at Malden High “are really warm” and “have been really good to work with.” He especially appreciates the goodwill of his students because his position means trying a lot of new things.
One of his Latin III Honors students, Reem Bouachra, described him as “nice and considerate of everyone in the class.” Initially nervous about the departure of Fox, she is glad that “Hammer could come in and be a great teacher.” She felt that he has been doing “an amazing job” for this being his first year teaching, commenting that “half the time [they] end up laughing in class.”
Hammer would say his favorite part of the job so far would be getting an impression of his students based on how they relate to stories they are discussing in class. For instance, if they are reading a myth, he likes to see what characters students take an interest in or relate to. This gives him a way to connect with his students and learn more about their personalities.
Hammer is very happy to be teaching at Malden High School and is glad to see everybody working together during these times. It comforts him knowing that the World Language department is there to support him as he navigates an online classroom.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Hammer had earned his graduate degree at Harvard College and that he was a substitute teacher. In addition, Cabral was not the Head of the World Language Department, but a member. Cabral also wanted to clarify that languages such as Mandarin and ASL are still very much in the air.