Mr. Corcoran Reflects on 39 Years of Teaching

Spectrum spotlights Mr. Corcoran and his incredible 39 year legacy

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Mr. Corcoran Reflects on 39 Years of Teaching

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

Ben Goldman

"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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