Alan Jolley Hangs Up His Chalk

Connecticut teachers can retire with maximum benefits after 37.5 years of service.

When Al Jolley retired this month — for the 2nd time; he taught 1 or 2 classes a year since his 1st retirement 5 years ago — he’d been an educator for nearly 52 years. That’s 37.3% longer than nearly any other retiree.

I used Google to figure out that percentage. If I’d had Jolley as a math teacher — and he had already taught for several years when I was a Staples High School student — I could have done that calculation in my head.

Jolley is a self-proclaimed dinosaur. He spent his entire career at Staples. He never wanted to go anywhere else — nor did he want to earn more money as an administrator.

Al Jolley in 2011…

The man who grew up with a slide rule took to new technology grudgingly. First he warmed to calculators — though he still frowns on the fancy graphing ones. Then he learned to use a computer (he still doesn’t care for them).

He never adopted smartboards. He still uses a blackboard — with actual chalk.

“I need lots of room to explain what I’m teaching,” he says. “I don’t want to push a button and see it all disappear. Students need to see everything we’re working on.”

Jolley does not apologize for his prehistoric predilections. They’re simply who he is. He doesn’t change much, and that’s fine with him.

He knew as young as age 12 that he wanted to teach. He did not take education courses at Rutgers University in his native New Jersey. But he turned down Harvard grad school to enroll in Wesleyan University’s excellent Master of Arts in Teaching program

“God orchestrates everything,” Jolley says. “He sent me there, and then he sent me to Westport.”

Wesleyan assigned Jolley to Staples — a school he knew nothing about. In 1966 he was given 5 classes.

When it came time to apply for a full-time job, Jolley applied here, and a few other districts. “Staples kept this young whippersnapper on,” he says.

… in 1968 …

Those were exciting days. He and many other young teachers rented homes at the beach. They represented every department. Because of the physical layout of the school — 9 separate 1-story buildings, with active courtyards in between — staff members knew each other well.

But the math department was Jolley’s special home. It was a collaborative family. He says it still is, half a century later.

“We treasure each other’s company. We help each other out,” he notes.

In the beginning, Jolley’s office desk was in the back of a math classroom. He learned his craft by observing other teachers.

Like any instructor though, he developed his own style. He posted inspirational quotes around the room, and planned his lessons meticulously.

“I’m a concrete/sequential thinker to the extreme,” he admits. “I always had lots of detailed notes.”

… and 2000.

Jolley’s philosophy is simple: “I want kids to enjoy math. I always taught different levels. My goal was for kids to find success at their appropriate level. If they succeed, they’ll work harder.”

After his original retirement 5 years ago, Jolley taught Algebra 2C. Those students will not become mathematicians. But their teacher wanted them to see the same beauty and excitement in numbers that he always has.

Over the years, new ideas — about what to teach, and how to teach it — have come and gone. Jolley never paid much attention to cycles. He was too busy teaching the way he wanted to. It worked for him — and for thousands of students.

He interacted with many of them — including those he never taught — in a variety of ways outside the classroom. Jolley organized Staples’1st ultimate Frisbee team. They played in what is believed to be the 1st coed interscholastic sports event anywhere in the country. In 2015 he and several players were inducted into the Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Fame.

Dan Buckley, Alan Jolley and Ed Davis, at a Staples Ultimate Frisbee reunion several years ago. Buckley and Davis played on Jolley’s first teams.

Jolley also led a bible study group at the United Methodist Church, and served the Boy Scouts as an assistant scoutmaster.

When Jolley and his wife bought their house, a sapling stood in the yard. Today, it’s 18 feet tall.

“When God put me at Staples, I was a sapling,” Jolley says. “My roots there grew so deep. Like that tree, I can’t be transplanted anywhere else. I can’t imagine working in any other school. I never wanted to, and I never did.”

He may volunteer with an organization like Mercy Learning Center. He’ll continue to run Staples’ SAT testing.

But — after nearly 52 years — Alan Jolley has picked up his last piece of chalk.

Go figure.

35 responses to “Alan Jolley Hangs Up His Chalk

  1. Al Jolley was my favorite math teacher of all time. He made math understandable and fun, and it was clear to me that he cared about his students. I wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life and would love to see him at the Mercy Learning Center.

  2. Gerry Kuroghlian

    Al has been a great colleague at Staples. His dedication to his students and his ability to clarify difficult concepts made him an outstanding teacher. I agree with Prill that his next step should take him to the Mercy Learning Center.

  3. “I need lots of room to explain what I’m teaching,” he says. “I don’t want to push a button and see it all disappear. Students need to see everything we’re working on.”

    I teach at the college level and echo Jolley on this one. In my case it’s 25-30 feet of whiteboard. It’s a big world out there and one needs to be able to step back and see all the parts.

  4. Alan Phillips

    I always looked forward to back to school night and visiting Mr Jolley’s classroom. We thank him for teaching a multitude of our kids.
    They all excelled because of him.

  5. If it were not for Mr. Jolley I doubt very much that I’d ever make it through Staples with a passing grade in anything to do with shapes and numbers. Thank you, Mr. Jolley for all you did for me so many years ago.

  6. Scott Brodie

    I remember Mr. Jolley as a young math teacher in the late 1960s, though we never shared a course. The Math department hummed with a wonderful enthusiasm in those days. George Tilley was a veritable Michelangelo with chalk. We cut our teeth with the latest technology- a programmable HP calculator the size of an electric typewriter. I, too, still prefer to lecture with blackboard and real chalk. Many thanks to Mr. Jolley for his wonderful energy and enthusiasm. Godspeed.

  7. Allen Levenson

    Dan, you can’t write an article about Al Jolley and not mention his famous “Jolley calls.” After every exam, he would call the parents of the students who got a good grade on the test to tell them that their daughter or son had done well on the exam. Can’t beat that for personal attention! What parent doesn’t want to receive a call like that…

  8. Kathleen M. Stuart

    Mr Jolley was the kind of teacher perfectly suited to Westport and Staples. Other schools could create independent thinkers if they had teachers like Mr Jolley, lucky Westport.

  9. We had the good fortune to experience many wonderful teachers over the 17 years we had kids in the WPS school system but Mr. Jolley did something that set him apart from others.
    Al Jolley was the only teacher either of my boys ever had that actually called our home from time to time, simply to let us know that a test had been aced, or just because he wanted us to know that our son was really “getting it” and doing a great job in class. It took two or three times to retrain myself to answer a late afternoon call from a teacher without some trepidation – for obvious reasons – but I learned quickly to recognize his office digits on the caller ID and happily grabbed for the phone with much gusto, thereafter. What a sacrifice of his time it must have been to place those (unnecessary) calls; What a delight it was for us to receive them! Thanks for your many years of service to your students, Mr. Jolley!

  10. Frank Henrick

    Dan, a terrific story about a terrific man. Al was always a wonderful example for so many Staples alumni, both students and teachers.

    Blessed journey, Al.

  11. James Honeycutt

    When the schools were shrinking from the late 1970’s through the 1990’s, I considered at the recommendations of some school administrators to pick up math certification. So I sat in on Al Joley’s math classes and was amazed on how great a teacher he was. I am sure if he could he would continue to teach math classes at Staples. He was one of the great ones. I hope he goes to the Mercy Learning Center as Dr. K. did and continue spread the good news of mathematics!

  12. Al can be considered the “grandfather” of a number of Ultimate Frisbee teams, as those of us who played Ultimate for Al in the very early days of the sport went on to start our own teams. Al epitomizes what is now called “The Spirit of the Game” in Ultimate – http://www.usaultimate.org/spirit . Godspeed, Al Jolley!

  13. Al was and is a hero to so many Westport youth. As adults, we still hold him in our heads and hearts with appreciation. Thank you Al, for your spirit of encouragement and enthusiasm, always.

  14. Meena Pathare Pellerin '00

    What an incredible math teacher! I only realized after beginning a teaching career of my own how selflessly Mr.Jolley had given his time to provide extra support before the sun had even come up! Thank you Mr.Jolley for putting in the time to make your students love math as much as you do.

  15. Jonny Doniger

    Thank for this remembrance the the great Al Jolley, Great to see buck danley and Ed. I had two years of Jolley math and it was great, and playing an alternative sport — ultimate.

  16. Matt Saltus

    Best Math Teacher Ever. Hands Down!!!!!

  17. Fred Cantor

    I did not have Mr. Jolley for math but I recall hearing great things about him. The fact that he taught for over 50 years speaks volumes not only about the passion he had for his work but also about the dedication he had to his students. He would probably be a perfect candidate for your new “Unsung Hero” column except that I think many, many people have been aware of the impact he has had.

  18. I don’t think we’ve ever met, but boy have I always been aware of you.
    Thanks for all you’ve contributed to your students’ lives, learning, and to the game we love, my fellow appleseed.
    Keep ’em flyin’!

  19. Bobbi Essagof

    My daughter was fortunate enough to be in Mr Jolley’s class one year and I’ll always remember the day I received my 1st Jolley call! Is anyone got an A he called their parents! What a great idea. Thank you Mr. Jolley for a great memory!

  20. Doug Griffith

    I had Mr Jolley in 1973 at Staples in a math class. I was never strong or loved math but I excelled under his motivation and excellent teaching. I played on the Staples frisbee team 73-75. Al also made a profound spiritual impact on my life that led me to my ultimate vocation. I will forever be thankful for him!! Doug Griffith, class of 1975.

  21. Ken Handelman '81

    I can remember a circle-drawing contest in which Mr. Jolley crushed everyone who dared a challenge. Helluva great teacher as well. And great to see Mr. Kuroghlian; he and Jolley were teachers whose classes you dared not show up to unprepared, but that was out of respect, not fear (OK, perhaps a little fear). Many thanks to both for their service.

  22. Elisabeth Olrik

    Mr. Jolley helped me understand math. I was failing math every other year. I barely graduated. I had him and he actually really cared. I got a B, I’ll never forget. He made sure everyone in class understood before he moved on. I will remember that forever. Thank you!

  23. Charlie Taylor

    I only Wish I’d had him for my math teacher

  24. John Siddell

    Best of luck Mr, Jolley & thank you!!

  25. Laurel Coolbaugh

    A wonderful man who I conside my spiritual father. I took geometry with him in 1975 and actually enjoyed it (I am not a math lover) because of him and his teaching style. His quotes every day were something I really looked forward to as well. Thanks for the article and pictures from over the years.

  26. Shona Chakravartty

    The best geometry teacher ever! And I remember his beautiful chalk drawings. Thanks for all your years of service and excellence.
    Shona Chakravartty ’83

  27. Jerry Brooker

    Al Jolley! Now there’s a really good man! As colleagues for many years, we
    didn’t discuss math because I already knew that 2 and 2 equals 5. And he knew that Shakespeare played shortstop for the Yankees.Yet, I learned lots from him about how to be a good man. Thank you, Al. Be well in your new life.

  28. Gerard Awad

    Thank Mr Jolley. Great math teacher

  29. Holly (Disque) Hood '73

    The only math this “science nerd” loved was Mr. Jolley’s geometry class. And, in his subtle way, he helped start me on my spiritual journey. Al will be a blessing wherever he serves.

  30. Thank you Alan Jolley for your service and contribution to the education of so many at Staples High school. As a member of the class of 1974, and it’s Ultimate Frisbee team, let me thank you again for your leadership in establishing that team. The class of 74 chose Ultimate Frisbee as the theme for the 35th year reunion. I posted a link to some images of that reunion and it’s frisbee theme, here. Mr. Jolley, we all look forward to seeing you at our 50th!

  31. Sue Sweetnam Asetta

    Loved him! Was a great teacher for me in high school. Loved math at Long Lots too with Rich Rollins and Mr Eringus (sp?).

  32. He was my math teacher his first year and I teased him for looking younger than my 16 year old self. I don’t know how it happened but he still looks younger than me. Have a wonderful extended vacation, Mr. Jolley. Thank You!!

  33. Karen Harman

    Al Jolley is a Staples and a Westport treasure. As a Paraprofessional in the Staples Library, I saw him regularly as he would peruse our shelves for the latest in videos. As a parent, I clearly remember his unexpected — and greatly appreciated — phone calls to let me know that one of my kids had done well on a test or quiz. Truly, Al is a gentleman who goes above and beyond in every facet of his life!!!

  34. Nancy Conklin

    I went to Staples in the fall of 1966 and remember Mr. Jolley. I never had the pleasure of having him as my math teacher, but I do remember thinking, he can’t be more than 5 years older than me! To think that he has been teaching at Staples for all those years, and making a difference in thousands of students’ lives, just makes my head spin. Sure wish I had bee in one of his math classes one of my years at Staples. Wishing you all the best, Mr. Jolley!!