PHS Profile: Gregory Hand

photo: Shreya Dandamudi

photo: Shreya Dandamudi

Gregory Hand has served the Princeton Public Schools system for a combined 29 years: 26 years in PHS’s history department and three years as a history teacher at John Witherspoon Middle School. Currently he teaches AP U.S. History, Russia, and Africa, in addition to coaching the swim team and girl’s soccer team. He was also named a 2014 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program Distinguished Teacher. Hand is retiring at the end of this year and said he will miss the relationships with staff members and students. However, he is looking forward to spending more time on different aspects of his life, such as fitness and family.

Were you planning on being a history teacher when you first started thinking about your career?

When I first started thinking about being a teacher, yes, I knew that it would be social studies. The real question was whether I wanted to be a teacher, and that developed as I was mid-way through college.

Do you remember what your first year at PHS was like?

I do. It was terrific. I was nervous. I had had plenty of interaction with the students of the high school age as a substitute teacher while I was in college, mostly in Trenton Central High School and the middle schools in Trenton. But I was nervous just about doing the job that I was assigned … I always thought that the faculty, administration, and the students were wonderful.

What is one of your favorite or proudest experiences you’ve had at PHS?

I just look at a career in which I know … that I’ve done the work that was asked of me to the best of my ability. As far as favorite experiences, I couldn’t possibly begin to identify them because it’s much more made up of little things, awesome things which are of the same type but have their own particular character that happen again and again and in the course of even just a day, let alone year or career. So it’s the little stuff about teaching that I enjoy the most—that there’s always something significant going on, even if it’s very light-hearted.

Do you feel that you’ve learned from students?

Very much—I feel like I’ve learned from my own three children, and in that similar way, I’ve learned from the students I’ve taught … I have certain core values which I think are essential to the profession and to me as a person and to society.What I’ve learned from students … is that we’re all the same—we have, obviously, different life experiences, different backgrounds and so on, but we’re all fundamentally human, and that’s the most important value of all.

What are the factors that have played into your decision to retire?

My career has been pretty well taken up with weeks that are 80 to 100 hours of work. That’s literally just who I am; sure, some of it comes from a commitment to the profession and some to a commitment to working hard and doing my best, but probably another big chunk of it comes from my own personal neurosis … I’ve felt pretty consumed by my work including teaching and coaching, and I have a sense now, that’s developed over the last couple of years, that it’s simply time to change.

Are you going to continue to coach?

No, I’m not, and that’s [due to] a more technical issue, legal requirements and so on. I’ll miss coaching the two sports that I’ve coached up through this year very much and all the athletes that are continuing in those sports who I have the greatest admiration and affection for; I’ll stay close to those teams and coaches on a voluntary basis.

What are your hopes for the future of the swim team?

I just hope that all athletes and all sports, including any I have coached, want to continue to do sports with a passion that appreciates why it’s being offered to them in the first place.

Are there any specific hobbies you look forward to?

I don’t know where hobbies fit in—there are certainly things I would love to do. In the last few years, my son [who is] in his mid 20s made a point of making sure I got to see rock and roll groups that I never saw back when I was his age. I’m sure he and I will do [more] of that. I love to travel, probably more locally than at a distance, but I love to move around. I always take pleasure in seeing new towns and places, meeting new people along the way. I don’t have a bucket list; it seems to me that life itself is a bucket list.

How would you describe your entire experience at the middle school and the high school?

It was fulfilling. I’ve always felt that, as challenging as it felt to do the kind of job that I wanted to do, I was extremely fortunate to be able to have done it.