PHS Profile: John Sullivan

photo: Nathan Drezner

photo: Nathan Drezner

John Sullivan, who has been teaching a variety of English classes at PHS for 17 years, currently teaches AP English IV, Film Appreciation, Writing Workshop, and Philosophy. Coming to PHS right from graduate school at The College of New Jersey, Sullivan loves the school and its community and plans to continue teaching at PHS for many more years. Sullivan enjoys reading, gaming, and interacting with coworkers and his students every day. Aside from teaching, Sullivan has worked at a music studio and a post office as well as in construction and retail.

What made you want to become a teacher?

Love of the subject. I mean, when I went to undergrad school I was dual major in history and English, because I loved the both of them, and so coming out of that, I did a lot of other jobs, but this is the one that just keeps coming back to me. It’s just something that can make a career.

What do you most enjoy about teaching?

Being in the classroom with students, talking about books, talking about literature, that’s what it’s all about … Outside the class, the things seem to be coming down the pike in terms of testing, in terms of restrictions and requirements from the state, the paperwork that goes with all that. I mean, really, that’s the only hard part. I mean, getting through the grading, making up assignments, is work. But that’s fun, that’s the kind of work you love to do. It’s all the stuff that happens outside the classroom that’s hard.

 Why did you choose PHS?

Well, when you’re coming out of graduate school, when you’re looking for a job, you don’t choose. You put your applications everywhere. In the end, it came down to Princeton or Hillsborough, and Princeton offered me the job first, and I wasn’t going to wait for somebody else to offer me the job.

What are some of your hobbies?

I read a lot, I like to play on my XBOX 360, until I get a Playstation four. I bike, that’s about it. That takes up my time.

What would you say is one of your favorite books? 

Little, Big by John Crowley. And everyone’s gonna go ‘What the hell book is that?’

How is your teaching style different for language- and film-based classes?

I don’t think the style is different at all because the content is really related. The only difference between the two of them is that you’re teaching students that wanted visual art, and so you’re reading things visually, but you’re still reading metaphors, you’re reading similes, you’re reading a kind of figurative language—just visually instead of in literary terms.

Do you only teach your students, or do you feel that they have taught you along the way? In what ways?

 It’s always back and forth. And it should be … I mean, students [look] at a text with fresh eyes. There’s always a chance to see something there that I haven’t seen. Mainly because when you do the same thing over and over and over again, you get used to doing the same thing over and over and over again. A set of fresh eyes will look at a word or a context and say, ‘What about that?’ and you say, ‘What? I’ve never even noticed that before.’

 What has been your best, weirdest, or funniest experience at PHS?

The funniest was … two or three years ago, [when Dr. Doug Levandowski] and I volunteered to do the pie toss at Spring Fling. And what we didn’t know was that the pies were made entirely out of whipped cream … It was like 93 degrees that day. And so within 25 minutes all the whipped cream was going rancid. We made [them] promise next year, if they were gonna do it again, they should use real pies and real cream. That was probably the funniest.

What are your career aspirations or plans for the future?

I have my career aspirations! This is it!


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