Storey-time: A Conversation with Departing English Teacher, Mr. Storey

Powerful words of wisdom from a PHS legend

Storey-time: A Conversation with Departing English Teacher, Mr. Storey

Mr Damian Storey, an English teacher who has taught at the High School for 20 years, will be leaving in a few short weeks, on February 18th. He has accepted a job as the Humanities Supervisor in Manville, who arranged a unique mid-year transfer. I interviewed him for a few words about his thoughts on leaving, best memories at PHS, and his new job.

Mr. Storey’s Classroom

Me: So, how long have you been teaching here?
Mr. Storey: I actually started substitute teaching in the district in February of 2002, which is crazy, cause it kind of comes full circle, twenty years later. But officially I was hired in September of 2003.

Me: So what classes have you been teaching?
Mr. Storey (summarized): I’ve taught all levels (of English) for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. The only classes I haven’t taught are any of the senior academic courses, Expos, and AP Literature. The electives I’ve taught have been Creative Writing, Film Studies, and Advanced Film Studies. We have quite a bit of electives in the English Department, so shameless plug for them there.

Me: What was your favorite class to teach?
Mr. Storey: That’s hard to say. That really is hard to say. All the classes I’ve taught over the years have given me a different type of joy. I really did enjoy teaching freshmen because I just loved working through and introducing them to Shakespeare and doing Romeo and Juliet. Really loved teaching sophomores because that was when I started to introduce kids to lit theory, which was a lot of fun. Obviously I adore AP Lang, there is so much we can do with it, and I love using the AP class as an excuse to teach you guys philosophy and really difficult thinking. And I love my film studies classes, and was able to write the curriculum for it. That is a legacy I’m really proud of. I wrote it in 2006; classes have run every year since. I’m gonna miss that, it was kind of my baby. But so yeah, a lot of different classes, Naren,(laughs) have been my favorite.

Me: How have you liked teaching here?
Mr. Storey: I’ve loved it. This is where I cut my teeth; this is where I put my roots down. I learned everything, I started out as a certainly inexperienced, pretty bad teacher, and then got progressively less and less bad (laughs) over that first year. And then my second year I really got my feet underneath me, but I remember being so exhausted that first year… But yeah of course, I’ve absolutely loved my time here, it’s, shaped who I am.

Me: What’s your best memories that you’ve got here?
Mr. Storey: Best memory honestly, the 2015-2016 school year. My former student, who is now a teacher here at Piscataway, Justin Cere, Mr. Cere, was a part of this class, and it was the second half of the year, and one of my students came in, his name was Ralph Costas, and he was like ”Mr. Storey, what’s your favorite color lightsaber?” but he brought it up in a way that I had no idea what he was doing and I was like “Oh yeah, green, green.” So a month later, maybe two months later, I’m sitting eating lunch in my room, and my door opens up, and it’s Ralph, and he’s like “Hey, Storey, what’s going on, you got a minute?” and I was like “Yeah sure.” All of a sudden he turns my lights off and a parade of kids walk into my room, it was like all of the kids from that class, and he strikes a lightsaber, and walks through that tunnel of kids (laughs). Now these were current students but also former students who were taking AP Lit and Expos, and he got down on a knee and presented me with this lightsaber, which I still have, and it was this really gorgeous, really high-end custom-made lightsaber. He said “we all pitched in to get this for you, we just wanted to let you know we appreciate all you’ve done for us” and it was such a kind, moving moving gesture. That stayed with me for a long time.

Green Lightsaber

Me: Where are you going next?
Mr. Storey (paraphrased): I’m going to Manville. I’ve been hired as the Humanities Supervisor there. I’ll be in charge of K-12 social studies 5-12 English Language Arts and K-12 ESL (English as a Second Language). The district’s smaller, so it’s much more intimate, which I think will have some advantages.

Me: What are your reasons for accepting?
Mr. Storey (paraphrased): It was really borne out of just wanting to extend my reach beyond the classroom. If you think about it this way Naren, year-in year-out, teachers have approximately one hundred students, and those are one hundred lives that you can impact positively, and make a change. The classroom sustained me for so long, still sustains me, I still enjoy it so much, but like I could push myself a little bit more, and I think that’s part of growing, is pushing yourself. And so there’s that part of it, that sort of personal aspect, but there is also this other aspect, less to do with me, more to do with cosmically speaking, I just wanted to do more for the world and I felt that I could extend my reach a little bit more. Rather than reach a hundred kids a year I could potentially really help staff reach each of their students in different ways. If you think about taking over a staff of 30+ teachers, multiply that by 100, now we’re talking about a lot more students that I’m able to impact and help. I will miss the classroom, but part of a supervisor’s job is to observe and to spend a lot of time in the classroom and I plan on doing that too. I would say those are the two chief reasons: wanting to extend my reach and help more kids, and also just to push and challenge myself a little bit more.

Me: How do you feel about going?
Mr. Storey: Oh, super excited. There’s nerves, too, you know, it’s a big undertaking. There’s a lot that needs to be done. But I’m really excited for it, really am. [Though] I’m sad to be leaving, it’s you guys- I’m sad to be leaving y’all.

Me: Do you think that we’re prepared to continue learning at the same level without you?
Mr. Storey: Oh, definitely, no doubt. Part of what I’m teaching you guys to do is to be self-sufficient and independent. You’ve had me I think for long enough to be able to draw upon the skills that you’ve learned, and you guys are resilient. You’re tough. I absolutely think the trajectory is still up for all of you.

To conclude here are some “words of wisdom” Mr. Storey has said throughout the interview:

“The trick to teaching, like the trick to anything, is that you reflect. You have to be reflective. Specifically that means figuring out at the end of a really hard day or a really hard week -because that’s what every day and every week was my first year- what worked. “Wow, this worked really well, how do I refine it to make it even better?” “Wow, this lesson did not work, at all, I won’t be doing that again.” But it’s not just lessons, it’s also knowing how to run a classroom, that’s a whole separate domain, learning classroom behavior and dynamics with kids. What’s made me a successful teacher, one that really loves the profession, is that I care about y’all, I really care about my kids. So long as you have that and you can reflect, your practice will improve.”

“The world’s a small place. People that you’ve met will enter back into your life years later, which is just a lesson to always be kind.”

“I think that we should always be learning. It’s really important to continue to push yourself.”

(Referring to lightsaber story) “The moral of this story is that you don’t have to buy gifts, but little notes, like little messages, go a long way. And I know you know that as a student. A teacher that takes time to comment on your work, that makes a difference. Showing gratitude in little small ways goes a long way too. I have a drawer at home full of just thank-you cards, and I really value that a lot. To me that’s worth more than just the paycheck; it’s saying thanks.”