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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.