Mr. Spitler: his ‘senior’ year of teaching

Mr.+Spitler%3A+his+%27senior%27+year+of+teaching

This spring, after spending the last 33 years teaching at DGS, Glenn Spitler will teach his final English class.

Spitler’s “graduation” as he has referred to it won’t be his first graduation from DGS—he graduated the traditional way in 1978. Being both a student and a teacher at DGS has made Spitler a fixture of the school for more than half of the school’s history.

In the 33 years Spitler has spent at DGS he has seen some very interesting things. One of these things is something that many students may not be aware of—the peacocks that used to call the courtyard home, but Spitler can remember them vividly, saying, “Back in the dark ages there were these peacocks in the courtyard, they were still there when I started teaching, they were very loud, especially if you were in the courtyard.”

Spitler’s progression from DGS student to teacher may seem natural on first thought. However, Spitler’s took a bit of a detour before arriving back at DGS.

After Spitler’s first graduation from DGS, he wasn’t set on becoming a teacher. Instead he pursued a BA in English Literature at Wheaton College. While in college, Spitler traveled extensively through Europe with a college choir group, which laid the foundation for his later career as a teacher.

In fact the inspiration to become a teacher came when Spitler was working as a night man in an Amsterdam youth hostel.

“I worked in a youth hostel in Amsterdam in 1983, and it was there that I decided to become a teacher … One of my responsibilities at the youth hostel was to be the night man and I had some time to reflect … I realized I liked people and I liked books and that this was the one career where I could do both,” Spitler said.

This was not, however, the only realization Spitler came to during his travels of Europe. A crash course in the arts and the humanities sparked an interest in these areas that continues to this day. While on a summer trip through Europe with his college choir group, he was exposed to many of the things he would later teach about.

“When I was in Amsterdam I was able to see all the Dutch art—the Van Gogh museum, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. So it was pretty intense, I saw quite a bit. But it did lead into my interest into the Humanities,” Spitler said.

Spitler actually spent every single summer of his college years travelling throughout Europe in some form. One of his most memorable trips was a six week tour of Europe with his choir group.

“I traveled quite a bit. I went on ten tours. I was on two, six week tours. I guess this is a fun fact. We sang with the Queen of Holland in her palace. We were involved in two music competitions. We won both. We were on German national television. Helmut Schmidt, the German Chancellor was in attendance,” Spitler said.

It’s fitting that a choir trip abroad served almost as a catalyst for Spitler’s teaching career, as music continues to greatly influence the way he approaches his classes and the written word. Spitler described the way that music influences the way he thinks about the English language.

“And since I’m such a musical person actually, I very much conceive of writing in musical terms. Right, in that what we need to think about is how words sound, and the concept also that language can be beautiful just like music,” Spitler said.

Music also helps Spitler get through endless stacks of student English papers. Many of Spitler’s nights and weekends are spent on the arduous task of grading essays.

“I do listen to music, usually when I grade papers. It keeps me from going out of my mind. Because it takes an incredible intensity to look at what students have written. For example, last weekend I sat in my chair in my living room and read papers all day—and it was nice outside,” Spitler said.

Spitler’s personal life includes a number of musical endeavors. Currently, he is a member of three different choirs: his church choir, the West Suburban Symphony Orchestra, and the Hinsdale Chorale. He was also given a solo in the Hinsdale Chorale’s Winter Wonder Concert; some DGS students may be familiar with the conductor, retired DGS choir director Laura Coster.

Back in class, Spitler does not shy away from incorporating drama and music into his English classes. Teaching primarily humanities and AP Literature classes, Spitler sees the inclusion of dramatizations as a natural and integral part of class. As Spitler has evolved in his teachings he has increased the amount of in-class drama.

“Another thing I’d say I’ve evolved is using much more drama in the class as a technique for engaging students in various texts. I’ve found ways to turn novels into dramatic situations,” Spitler said.

The inclusion of dramatizations of plays, short stories and novels can lead to some interesting and memorable moments in class. Senior Andrea Lopez, who is in Spitler’s humanities class, said that, “there never is a dull moment when you have Mr. Spitler as your teacher.”

Another senior in Spitler’s humanities class, senior Teddy Surdyk, also enjoys the drama and also gave credit to Mr. Spitler for adding something special to class.

“Mr. Spitler always making the experience more enjoyable, whether it is enhancing the drama or adding more humorous elements to the work, he always seems to make the class memorable and fun,” Surdyk said.

The excitement that student acting can bring to class is not without purpose. Spitler believes that allowing students to see what is written on the page acted out in front of them is a great way for students to better understand and think about what they are reading.

In addition to giving students a better understanding of what they are reading, in-class drama also creates an energy in Spitler’s classes that make students excited to come to class. Senior Johanna Skibbe gave her thoughts about the impact of in-class drama in her classes with Spitler.

“Having this element of fun in the classroom makes me really look forward to coming to class every day, not to mention the days when Mr. Spitler decides to play a role in our drama, he takes every role seriously and does not disappoint,” Skibbe said.

By joining in the action and excitement of drama, Spitler creates an environment where students are comfortable really getting into their rules and at least beginning to match the passion that Spitler brings to class. Skibbe also believes that Spitler’s participation in class is helpful to the class as a whole.

“I believe the confidence he displays to his classes allows his students to be OK with getting out of their comfort zones and eventually helps them to gain a similar level of confidence,” Skibbe said.

The one word that describes Spitler most as a teacher is passion. Whether it is his seemingly infinite knowledge about a dizzying array of information, or the energy he brings to each class Spitler is someone who is truly passionate about what he does.

Asked what allows him to be so passionate and knowledgeable about his classes, Spitler gave a rather simple answer: curiosity and reading.

“Students have asked me how I know all of this. The answer is simple I read books,” Spitler said.

Spitler’s passion does not go unnoticed and has left a lasting impression on both his students and other teachers. Social Studies teacher Brennan Lazzaretto who eats lunch with Spitler had much to say. When asked to describe Spitler he said, “Mr. Spitler is both an intellectual scholar and a goofy guy.”

One particular memory Lazzaretto has of Spitler shows the musicality and energy that seems to surround Spitler.

“The most memorable experience was when we were walking back from lunch. As the group was talking, Mr. Spitler was encouraged to perform a few of his impersonations. We went into the the stairwell across the auditorium and Mr. Spitler began to sing Ethel Merman’s ‘There no business like show business!’ His booming voice echoed in the stairwell as a student came around the corner of the stairs. [The students] were giggling after hearing the impersonation. Everyone began laughing,” Lazzaretto said.

Students also appreciate the energy that Spitler brings to his teaching. Senior Andrea Lopez had this to say.

“He also has a great sense of humor which will always have anyone laughing. He always has so much energy and excitement to teach … [he] is very animated and he is clearly passionate about Humanities—or the best course known to man,” Lopez said.

Spitler’s excitement and positive energy is closely related to his philosophy about teaching English. Johanna Skibbe who has Spitler for two periods of the day gave her thoughts on his teaching philosophy.

“At the beginning of the year, Mr. Spitler told us that he believes English is meant to be enjoyed and the best way to do that is to have fun and really get into the meaning of any text we are working with,” Skibbe said.

Skibbe also explained how Spitler’s travels and outside experiences add something special to his class.

“Specifically in humanities he is always showing us pictures he has taken from his own trips to museums or operas. I find it very helpful to have so many visuals of the art pieces we talk about in class,” Skibbe said.

Spitler expanded on the idea of taking a “fun” approach to English by emphasizing the need for imagination in the classroom. Much of the reason for the in-class drama and the pictures and movies Spitler shows in class are to help students visualize and better understand what they are reading.

“What it comes down to this. What I want to teach my students is that we need to read with imagination, if we don’t read with imagination we are going to miss something,” Spitler said.

Throughout his 33 years of teaching Spitler has left a lasting impact on many of his students. Even as he enters his “senior” year of teaching Spitler does not seem to have fallen prey to so-called senioritis. He still brings the same youthful energy to class each and every day.

Spitler is, however, looking forward to parts of his retirement such as traveling with his wife and spending more time reading. In fact, he has already set aside a new copy of “War and Peace” that he plans on reading after he finishes up his last year teaching.

Spitler is embracing his “senior” year as he wears his senior shirt on Fridays with his “fellow” seniors and talks of his graduation. This led senior Johanna Skibbe to conclude with the following fitting quote.

“I am glad to be sharing my senior year with my fellow graduate, Mr. Spitler.”