Mr. Corcoran Reflects on 39 Years of Teaching

Spectrum spotlights Mr. Corcoran and his incredible 39 year legacy

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"This is the year for looking back for me, since I know it's my last one." - Mr. Corcoran

Ben Goldman

Ben Goldman

"This is the year for looking back for me, since I know it's my last one." - Mr. Corcoran

Ben Goldman

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In this week’s Staff Spotlight, we sat down with Mr. Corcoran, and reflected on his 39 years of teaching.

What’s your education background? Where did you go to high school and college?

I went to Northville High School. It’s not the Northville High School you guys know today. The Northville High School I went to was actually right inside the town of Northville and was up on a big hill. I think it turned into an administration building, kind of like the West Bloomfield administrations is going to take over one of the middle schools here eventually. But it was on top of a big hill, and we were the 100th graduating class. I think it was close to only 180 (students)… it was a small class… 

…I went to Schoolcraft College right after high school for two years, which convinced me that I could actually function in college. So right from there, I saved up some money and got accepted to Wayne State…It took a while to graduate from there. I started there in ‘71, and finally got my degree in ‘77 (with an) English major. I did have it in mind to be a teacher, so it was a double major of English and education.

How did you end up at WBHS?

I ended up doing my student teaching at Plymouth Canton High School. Once I finished my student teaching, I did some subbing for about half a year. It was enough to give me one year’s worth of credit as a teacher…so now I’m retiring (this year) with 39 years of credit instead of the 38 that I have at West Bloomfield…

…I came here (to WBHS because) I saw a job opening for a position that involved basic study skills. The curriculum would’ve been teaching basic study skills, basic composition, remedial reading, and SPRINT or one of those, something like that.

When you get your degree and you start looking for jobs, they tell you to go out and interview for any job. It’ll give you experience in interviewing, you can practice. The next interview, the real interview you want, you’ll have less nervousness, that sort of thing.

So I went out for this interview here, and when they interviewed me, I clearly did not have the kind of background they were looking for. But then they took a look at my resume, which turned out to be a real godsend, because once they gave the job to another guy, there was a teacher in the English department here…who in the first week got fed up, in the first week, and took his classroom keys off his belt and said, “that’s it, I’m out of here, I’m going back to law school.” He dropped his keys on the desk and walked out of the building and never came back. So they called me, because I had just interviewed, and…his schedule almost completely matched up with my resume. So they called me and said, “we think we have a position for you.”

 

So all 38 years of teaching were here at WBHS?

This was the only permanent position I ever had. Everything else was strictly part-time and temporary.

I know you’ve taught a lot of classes here at WB, from science fiction to honors and AP English classes…

Just about anything in the way of literature, I’ve taught it here.

Do you ever look back and see the 38-year legacy you’ve left at WB?

Well, it’s hard to see it yourself. It’s almost like because it’s you you’re looking back at, you don’t look with a very objective view. But I do look back. I remember being in the old classroom quite well, and I think I’ve calculated I’ve had close to 8,000 students. So, a lot of names are gone, but I remember a lot of faces.

I mean, there’s one person who came to see me. This guy had my class in 1982, and he drives by and wants to know if I remember his name. I’m thinking, “dude, ’82 is like how many years ago?” This guy has gained like 160 pounds, he’s got four kids, I mean he’s got one grandchild for God’s sake, how am I going to recognize him? He was 16 when I had him.

So some of it, no, I don’t recognize everybody that comes by, but looking back… this is the year for looking back for me, since I know it’s my last one. So I’m already starting to peel some of this stuff off the wall and make the transition. But its been, it’s been good. I get really good feedback from former students, so I’m pretty much convinced that I do a pretty decent job, and I’m happy with where I’m at.

What are your hobbies outside of school? What do you like to do?

Well, the plan is to do some writing. For a long time I pursued song writing, and I’ve got some material I might want to try out when I get some time. I have a few recordings that I want to make.

But I want to write, I want to write the story of these 39 years. I’ve got a few stories, and I’ve told a few in class, and I’ve had students say “you’ve got to write some of these down,” so I’m trying to get some of that done.

I’ll travel, spend some significant time with my granddaughter, rebuild the house…and work on the farm. So, plenty of projects to choose from. I’ll keep busy, hopefully I’ll be even busier than I am now. We’ll see.

What specifically has inspired you music-wise?

Oh, I’m old school. I go way back to the days of folk music and folk rock, like Dylan and the Beatles and all those guys, so it’s in that kind of vein that I dabble. So, yeah, stuff like that. It’s easier to record if you simplify the process.

My goal a long time ago, though, was not to perform. My goal was to write songs for performers who already had careers and who were already drawing audiences. I didn’t really care much for performing, I still don’t.

Diving a little deeper into your music…your song, “A Matter of Time,” which you performed during U-Matter week…

That was very fun, I’ll tell you that! I was shocked that anybody was able to sing along with it. At first I thought it was because the lyrics were up there, but they actually kind of knew the tune as well, so that was nice.

Relive Mr. Corcoran’s TED Talk performance here:

 

What does the song mean to you?

Well, it changes. It changes. As I get a little older, it’s kind of evolving. But, everything is time related. After teaching Slaughterhouse Five and a number of other stories where time is such a huge deal…and after you’ve got five or six decades under your belt, you can look back and realize that life is filled with all kinds of changes. If it’s bad now, that too will change. If it’s good now, you have to brace yourself for that being changed as well.

But, you know, my old man once told me many years ago that everybody’s different and everything changes. And if you can buy into those two ideas…the example I give in class is, my wife had no idea she was marrying an alcoholic because he had no idea he was an alcoholic, that being me of course. But, I went through some changes, she went through some changes, and we’re still going through changes. Everybody is… It’s all become part of my overall view, I guess.

So many students look up to you as a role model… Is there anybody that you look up to?

Yes, in fact. Now, Mrs. McQuillan and I have had a discussion on this more than once, and I think we’ve both studied in college a class called “Bible as Literature.” We’re now starting to turn that around and talk about literature as Bible. So, the people that I look up to are the authors who provide us with lines like “Well, I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.” You know, lines like that. These all kind of become commandments for me. They become inspirational… Because they’re artists, they live on, and their words do seem to be ink worthy in a lot of respects. So, yeah, those are the people I look up to. They’re not generally politicians.

 

Do you have any questions of your own for Mr. Corcoran? Comment them below and they may be asked in a follow-up interview!

 

 

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9 Comments

9 Responses to “Mr. Corcoran Reflects on 39 Years of Teaching”

  1. Julia Weingarden on February 15th, 2017 1:01 pm

    This man was one of the best parts of my high school career. What other teacher gives you a CD filled with Jack Kerouac poetry readings when you passingly mention your beat poetry phase? I wish him a blissful retirement.

    [Reply]

  2. Melvin Crafton on February 15th, 2017 6:03 pm

    Mr.C was by far the best instructor I have ever had. I was in 2 of his class in 1982. What I remember most is he treated us like adults. It was an amazing learning environment. I’m not sure if I would have never read Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, George Orwell and many more if he wasn’t in my life at a young age.

    WBHS is losing a great instructor. I wish you nothing but the best.

    Mel

    [Reply]

  3. Steve Oatley on February 15th, 2017 9:03 pm

    “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”

    [Reply]

  4. Lisa (Leib) Klein on February 16th, 2017 6:47 am

    Class of ’87. While High School memories overall put a smile on my face, most of the good memories have to do with non academic experiences. However, if there is one teacher or one class that I do clearly remember it was Mr. Corcoran’s. I don’t remember being excited to go to any of them the way me and Marcie (Elkin) were to go to his. Like others have said he treated us like adults, involved us in conversations that made us feel a part of something bigger than just school. None of the material was ever boring. And in the end he taught us about life. Who would have thought a high school teacher or class could do that? Thank you Mr. Corcoran for your devotion and commitment to us! We actually mattered. Wishing him lots of peace and success for the next journey of his life!

    [Reply]

  5. Kelly Giuliani on February 16th, 2017 12:37 pm

    Mr. Corcoran was not just my literature teacher for two years in high school, but also a teacher of life. When I think back to my times in high school, my fondest memories always come from his classes. I remember always looking forward to sitting in his class every other day because he had such a special way of reading the stories to us, or bringing about a new idea that I never gave thought. He had such a talent for gaining the interest of every kind of student. Mr. Corcoran is one of the most influential people I know and truly wants his students to learn more than just what the lesson plan says for the day. How amazing is it to have positively affected the lives of so many people like he has. Something to be proud of. I wish him the best of luck with everything in the future and hope to visit this year!

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  6. Jen (Streit) Robichaud on February 16th, 2017 11:29 pm

    Mr. Corcoran, you were an inspirational teacher, one of the few who seemed to really enjoy each and every one of us students for the individuals that we were. I loved your class, the way you pushed me to do and think more. Please know what a huge difference you have made for all of the WBHS community. Congratulations on a well deserved retirement. Love and Peace to you, Jenni ❤️✌?

    [Reply]

  7. Shelby glazer on February 17th, 2017 1:10 pm

    There are so many things I can say about this man. I’ve gone back several times over the years to visit and I’m not sure if he knows that he was the such a HUGE role model for me going thru high school. Such fond memories of him, as a matter of fact his was the only class I ever looked forward to in high school.

    Jim, if you read this, contact me as I would love to catch up.

    [Reply]

  8. Murray Brown 83' on March 17th, 2017 2:33 pm

    Mr. C., really changed my approach to my teenage life. He had such a profound affect on releasing my creative energies. Mr. Corcoran used me in his many experiments of messing with his students heads and unleashing their potential to grow, learn and think outside the box.
    I will never forget that first day. He was so young and so very forward thinking for that school. It may have been his first year teaching.
    He introduced his English class as Exploring the Bizarre Imagination or Esoteric World Literature…
    Any teacher with a picture of Frank Zappas high school graduation picture certainly could hold this very hyper kids attention immediately…
    So love that man…
    Peace, Love and God’s good Graces to all…

    [Reply]

  9. Kevin Marosi on April 26th, 2017 2:11 pm

    Class of ’83. Many people are lucky enough to have “that one teacher” in high school. You know the one I mean. The one that you still talk about, even after 30+ years. Mr. Corcoran was that teacher for me, and for so many others. I had the privilege of having Mr. C for three classes at WBHS; English Comp, Science Fiction, and Exploring the Bizarre Imagination.
    One of the most profound moments I had in high school involved Exploring the Bizarre Imagination, at least at its inception. If memory serves, it was in the spring of ’82, at the end of one particular Science Fiction class, Mr. Corcoran had asked a number of us to stay class because he wanted to talk to us about something. He pitched this idea he had for a class he was calling Exploring the Bizarre Imagination, which he was going to take to the school board. He asked whether we would be interested in taking this class, assuming the board approved it. The answer was a resounding yes! So what was so profound about that? At that moment, Mr. Corcoran didn’t see us as a bunch of 17 year old teenagers. It might be a stretch, but in my eyes, he saw us as his peers, interested in our opinions. That moment has stuck with me all of these years, and I have recounted that story a number of times.
    Now the torch has been passed. My youngest son Ian, Class of ’17, had the privilege of having Mr. Corcoran in the fall of his senior year. On the first day of class, while taking attendance, Mr. Corcoran got to Ian’s name, saw his last name and stopped, asking him if he was related to me. He remembered me after 33 years! When Ian told me this, I was so touched that it brought me to tears.
    I have had a few regrets in my life, and one of those is not staying in contact with Jim Corcoran. That is one regret I would truly like the opportunity to remedy. I not only consider you a mentor, but also a friend.

    Enjoy, you deserve it.

    [Reply]

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Mr. Corcoran Reflects on 39 Years of Teaching