By EMMA SCHULZE
It’s 7:45 and the school day is about to start. Ms. Janet Matthews is ready to start teaching English yet another day at Westlake High School.
When Matthews started teaching, she was “learning the ropes;” but the longer she taught, the more natural it became. She knew that it was a career she wanted to continue because it was her calling.
Matthews has taught at Westlake for 30 years. Within those 30 years, she has created endless successful programs that run in the school, including English 9 Honors and Creative Writing. “I think those two programs define my character,” Matthews states.
She has made an impact on every teacher in the building, specifically her fellow English teachers. Vincent Iovane, English 11 and AP Literature teacher, states that Matthews has inspired him in every aspect of teaching: “She helped me become a better teacher and a better person.”
Lauren Muller, English 9 and Journalism teacher, states, “she is always willing and ready to learn something new. Many teachers in her position would be content with the amount of knowledge that they have acquired over the years; however, Mrs. Matthews continues to look for new experiences and ways to acquire more knowledge. She travels, takes courses, reads and then reads some more, attends conferences, all with the intention of bringing whatever she learns to her students. It is truly remarkable that every ounce of culture and knowledge she learns outside of the classroom she works into her lesson plans to make them more engaging for students. I admire that.”
Although she inspires many everyday, she is also inspired by the people around her.
Her students inspire her everyday. “Some of them still keep in touch with me,” Matthews states, and “they are so hard working.”
Students look up to Matthews more and more everyday, including one of her Creative Writing students, Jessica Kaplan.
Kaplan, from the Class of 2017, states that Matthews has “inspired [her] to become a writer by teaching [Matthews’s] Creative Writing students how writing can act as a form of expression as well as a career. Writing is art that can be for yourself or for an audience.”
Kaplan loves reading and writing. That’s why her and Matthews work so well together.
Kaplan adds that Matthews is “one of the only teachers [she’s] ever had who has challenged and pushed [her] more than [she’s] ever been pushed before. What was different about having Ms. Matthews as a teacher was that in her class it was never just about the grades. Ms. Matthews challenged her students to think differently, to step out of their comfort zones, to try new things and to achieve what they might not have thought possible.”
Without Matthews, Kaplan wouldn’t be the writer she is today. One lesson Kaplan will remember forever is “you cannot be afraid to take risks.” This is also how Matthews lives her own life.
Matthews isn’t afraid to take risks. She takes risks with her writing and the way she teaches, including dressing up and having parties, mostly with her 9H students.
In Kaplan’s eyes, Matthews is a teacher who is “challenging, brilliant, and enthusiastic.”
Muller notes Matthews’s “moxie” defines her most as a teacher. Her “passion, dedication, work ethic and endless optimism don’t hurt either,” Muller adds.
Iovane believes that Matthews’s sense of humor is most fitting to her teaching style. He adds, “How she’s willing to come into school dressed up as Beowulf shows how she wants to get students interested in what they’re reading.”
After all the years of teaching, her career is sadly coming to an end. Matthews has inspired many students and teachers throughout her career. She’s impacted many lives with her knowledge of life and literature.
“She helps students find their own love for English,” Muller states. “There is always one teacher in high school who has impacted a student’s appreciation for a subject area. In this case, she is the teacher who has aided students in finding their appreciation for English.”
Matthews will be missed at Westlake. She has done so much for the English Department and curriculum, but most notably for students. Westlake will not be the same after she leaves for new endeavors. “Her classes were always an adventure, and something different,” Kaplan states.
Matthews should be remembered for “her passion and ability to bring English to life,” Muller says.
Kaplan states that Matthews should be remembered for “being an incredible teacher. She should be remembered for changing the way her students think, for challenging [them] to achieve things [they] never thought possible, and for inspiring her students to overall be better writers and people.”
Matthews notes that what she’ll miss most is “definitely the students and my wonderful work family, especially my close friends and supportive colleagues in the English Department. I have at least four boxes of letters and cards I have saved from my students; their notes continue to be a source of warmth and inspiration.”
Matthews “lives every moment to its fullest” and doesn’t want her teaching career to end. After she officially retires, she hopes to travel the world and visit the continents she hasn’t visited yet. She will be traveling to Croatia, and in 2017, she will be taking on Antarctica.
“I hope to read every back issue of the Smithsonian and The New Yorker that is on my coffee table; improve my forehand in tennis; master my yogic breathing; spend more time with my family; find the right color streak for my hair; continue my volunteer work; write, write, and write more; and welcome any adventure that comes my way!”