By: Eve Nevelos, Editorial Staff ‘24
Through the wee hours of the morning, laughter can still be heard admitting from Mr. Luke’s room: 712. A sweeping flag hangs in his room, painted with the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Never leave till tomorrow that which you can do today.” Students in his World Civilizations and AP Modern European class listen attentively over ZOOM or through the plastic shields of this modern age. With so much change in school life recently, Mr. Luke’s class brings a sense of normalcy for students, through lively class discussions.
Where did you attend college?
“Right up the street, Ramapo College of New Jersey. I attended there and also went there for my teacher education and I graduated in 2010.”
Do you have any personal passions (or hidden talents)?
“Personal passions… well, first and foremost is my family. That’s the center of my life, the most important thing for me so… my wife, my family, if there’s a personal passion, it’s right there. Outside of that, I love being outdoors, I love going fishing, a lot of that I do with my family. That’s really the center of my life outside of here, outside of work.”
How do you spend your summer breaks?
“Catching up on old work on my house that I’ve not been able to get to. Every summer at this point has kind of been a reno project. Aside from that, I love going to the beach, going out on the ocean, that tends to be where I am because I can totally disconnect from everything and just enjoy.”
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
“I didn’t go to college with the intent of becoming a teacher at all. When I left high school, my whole intent was ‘I’m never going back there’, and here I am- I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I had a passion for history, I was taking history classes kind of on the side when I was in college, I had a different major initially. And I wasn’t happy with the major I was in and I was fortunate enough to come across a couple of history professors at college who were just fantastic. They had an ability to take things that I think otherwise would’ve been really dry, really boring and they made it incredibly interesting and I think that made me realize how passionate I was about history. It also kind of lit a spark in me that this is a topic that can be destroyed for a student. If it’s not taught the right way, if it’s taught in that dry, dull manner, then it’s something that’s so important that can feel like this arduous task that no one is interested in. That kind of drove me towards teaching and also just in other areas and parts of my life, I had the opportunity to work with coaching and things like that and really enjoyed it and figured, this is what I want my profession to be. It actually wasn’t a hard choice once I came around to that [conclusion]. I kind of feel like science always has this mystery of trying to understand the unknown… and math it’s all problem solving, it’s very engaging… and English you have these great, sweeping dramas and these great plots and all that… [and] art you have all the beauty and creativity that goes into it. It was kind of a realization in college that history has all of that, but it takes the right person to bring it all out, and I guess that’s the mission that I go into teaching with- is to try to do that, to try and let students see that all of those things are embodied in history and to hopefully inspire a passion in it too because there are so many important things that go into it (like civics and engagement); you know, just understanding the world, where it came from, and how it is.”
Would you say that student engagement is your leading philosophy, or goal, in teaching?
“It’s what I aim for. It’s what I try for probably above anything else. If you’re engaged, I can work with you. If you’re engaged, hopefully, I can inspire you in some way, shape, or form to see how important the material is- to see how important what we’re learning is. It’s why I try to make people laugh, because I know if you’re laughing hopefully that means you’re listening. You have to be a part of the discussion, the students have to be part of that. It can’t just be me throwing information at the wall and seeing what sticks. You have to realize that we’re learning this because you’re a part of it, you’re living through history right now and it affects your life, it affects everything around you, it affected your families, your ancestors, so you have to be a part of that conversation.”
Have you found that teaching online has made it difficult to keep up the engagement?
“It’s a different climate, you know? I try to build a sense of community inside of the classroom, I think the greatest compliment I ever received was my second year teaching, I think it was, a student told another teacher that ‘in Mr. Luke’s class we’re a family.’ And I thought that was the best- I didn’t care if there was any other way someone could describe my classroom, that to me was still one of the most important compliments I’ve ever gotten from one of my own students, right, that’s who’s opinion matters the most. I always try to build that in my classroom, and now this year, with everyone being kind of separated into cohorts or separated as coming into the building or staying home, that’s been the challenge: it’s how to build that community. And I realize that’s been a challenge for incoming freshmen especially- it’s feeling a part of the community when you might not be right then and there, side by side with everybody. That’s been one of my big goals this year, is to try and make my classes feel like they’re part of the fabric of this school, because they are, and feel a part of this community as a classroom, even if it’s restrained. I’m sure you can see, Eve, that it works some days and other days it’s more challenging, you know? It’s definitely been the number one thing I’ve been focusing on this year.”
Would you say that getting those kinds of statements from students keeps you wanting to maintain that environment? Do you think that the way your students will remember your class is a driving force behind your teaching style?
“It is. Even more than that. I understand that when you walk away from here you’re not going to remember everything that I told you. It’s not all going into a vault and being locked away perfectly and pristinely, but what I hope I did, more than that, even if you don’t have this amazing memory of being in my class, I hope that somewhere along the line, either myself or my colleagues, the other people in my department helped you figure out what you think about the world around you. I just really don’t believe it’s my position to tell you what to think, it’s my job to try and bring out the best of you, and try and help you during what’s really a challenging part of your life- you’re teenagers, you’re just coming out into the world to really begin grappling with really difficult questions and there aren’t really good, simple, easy answers. Hopefully what I do is help you figure out what you believe, what you think, what your opinions are. And if I’ve done that, then I feel like I’ve done my job. If I’ve given you the tools to be able to come to an informed position on things in life, or at least… And I know every five or ten, fifteen years, what you think is going to change, it’s going to be altered and affected by your experiences, by life, but hopefully, in me, you found someone who helped you find your own way. That’s what motivates me to teach because I feel like teenagers now, 20 years ago, 20 years from now, 100 years from now, they’re always going to need that, they’re always going to need someone to help them find their own way.”
What makes a ‘good’ day at school? What makes you feel the most successful?
“God, there’s so many things. The shortest and easiest answer is when kids absolutely demolish a test and people are getting A’s and B’s, right, that always feels good. Like alright, good, we didn’t mess up here. But for me, especially if it’s a student who has maybe struggled with a certain topic area or subject area when I see a student who struggled have a great day in class. They’re answering questions and they’re doing well, or I see them succeed at something that’s a huge challenge for them, that’s the moment I feel good- when I see someone making progress. If I know I had any role in that, I might not be responsible for it, but if I had some role in it, if I helped in some way, and I saw a kid really have a good day, they had a good day and I was part of that, that’s when I feel like a success.”
What is one piece of advice or message you have for your students?
“Yeah, you know, it’s a challenging year and high school is challenging enough as it is, being a teenager is challenging enough as it is, facing down your future is always a daunting question, and I know that this year has not done anything to make it easier. But what I’ve seen has been incredibly impressive. I’ve watched so many of my kids in my classes still growing and maturing into adults and showing resiliency and embracing the challenges of this year. I hope they know that they are going to be so tremendously successful because of that. Because of the attitudes that they have. I’ve received emails from students that I’ve just been so impressed with the maturity and with their ability to understand that this is going to be a more difficult year than most and to embrace that challenge and do their best, it inspires me. So I hope they know that they are impressing me every step of the way by just the maturity that they’re handling everything with, the resiliency they’re handling it with. Good times will be coming, but I’ve been very impressed by that.”
“The school community has definitely rallied during this time.”
“It needs to. I mean, a school is a part of our community. It’s a part of your community. It’s a big part of your life and one of the things I’m proudest of at Indian Hills is I think we do have a very strong effort on the part of our administration, our staff, our supervisors, to try to forge a feeling of community. You’ve got people coming in from three different towns, you’ve got students coming in from all different backgrounds, experiences, and to try and bring that together and find a common shared bond and create a support structure, I think is really important. Those things are still going on this year. Certainly, COVID has made it a lot more difficult and we can’t all actually physically be here together.”