When Tom Marak announced he would be retiring at the end of this school year during his speech at the teacher’s annual convocation licking off the school year, there was an audible gasp in the auditorium. A well-respected member of the school system, Tom shared memories of career as a teacher and as president of the North Haven Education Association (NHEA).
“It’s interesting because everything I do is the last time I’m going to do that, and that’s a relief to some extent because teaching is not easy. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of effort, but it’s also…a little bit sad,” Tom says.
With the convocation his last chance to address all his colleagues at once, Tom says he wanted to show his appreciation for the opportunity to represent everybody—but he didn’t think it would affect him as deeply as it did.
“I think this is going to be a much more emotional year than I thought it was going to be,” says Tom.
Teaching for close to 40 years, Tom says the best thing about it is the kids. He says he still keeps in touch with students that he’s taught, and added that he’s even taught children of former students.
“A lot of good memories with a lot of kids, in various roles,” Tom says.
One of those roles is with the Future Problem Solving (FPS) program at the high school. He says one of the main reasons he enjoys that is he gets the same kids for four years, and he can get to know them and watch them grow up from freshmen to seniors.
Tom says the FPS program is about teaching kids the creative problem solving process, taking issues that are around today, such as the spread of infectious diseases, and applying them to scenarios set years in the future. Students brainstorm to find problems in that scenario and solutions to those problems.
One of the highlights of Tom’s role with FPS was when his group won the international competition—not once, but twice, back in the 1990s.
“That’s an incredible feeling, and I have to give all the credit to the kids because it really is the kids that did all the work,” Tom says.
For the last seven years, Tom has been president of the NHEA. This will also be his last year in that role, as the president has to be an active teacher. He says it was extremely rewarding to be involved with the organization, saying that a teacher’s working conditions are a student’s learning conditions.
“We want people to be able to be better teachers, and to give students the greatest opportunity to learn as much as they can,” Tom says.
Tom says he believes he’s had a positive effect on the school system as NHEA president. He also wanted to give credit to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Cronin for that, saying that the two work well together.
“We know we have the same goal, and that is better teaching, better learning—what’s right for students,” Tom says.
Tom says he loves teaching, and says it been true for all the years he’s taught. He actually didn’t start out wanting to be a teacher, noting that he wanted to be political science major in college.
Learning foreign language was a struggle for him, however, and he found being an education major at the college he attended didn’t require him to take a language. Once he did his student teaching during his senior year, he says he fell in love with teaching.
“It was like, ‘This is what I really, truly want to do,’” Tom recalls.
Tom says he has also spent time to help transition colleagues into his roles, and wanted people to know about his retirement now so some training can be done ahead of time.
He says a lot of people helped him along the way, adding that nobody does a job like teaching alone. He gives a lot of credit to his wife, noting that being active in the education association on both the town and state levels took up a lot of his time.
Having worked in another school district before, Tom says it was like he “died and went to heaven” when he came to North Haven, saying there are good kids, a good level of parent support, and a great faculty.
“There’s something about North Haven to really be proud of,” Tom says, “We really do have a good school system.”
Tom intends to travel more during his retirement, and says he’s ready to enjoy life.
“I think I’m going to walk away with no regrets; I’ll miss it a little bit, but it’s time,” Tom says, “It’s time for other people. We have a lot of good people, and it’s important I think for older teachers, experienced teachers, to give them an opportunity.”