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‘Lifelong learner’

SJNRA English teacher finds his passion

Most people are able to identify that one teacher that not only inspired them in the classroom, but perhaps helped shape their career trajectory. For John Litchfield, a teacher at St. John Neumann Regional Academy, a high school English teacher, Mr. Stahler, was that teacher.

“As young males were all amazed by his knowledge — what he knew, his ability to navigate through literature and writing and everything with such ease,” Litchfield said. “We thought the guy was amazing.”

Litchfield, who spent second grade until graduation in the Wellsboro Area School District, shared that most of his friends growing up were considered “jocks.”

“We played all the sports and lived them. This guy (Mr. Stahler) kind of opened up our eyes to the world of English in a different way,” he added.

The idea of entering the field of education may have been planted, but it wasn’t until Litchfield went to college that he realized, through the process of elimination, that it might be what he wanted as a career choice.

“I went (to college) as a biology major and not even in education, but then I had trouble with organic chemistry so I decided to drop out of organic chem and re-evaluate what I was going to do,” he said.

Taking time off from college entirely, Litchfield took a job in a local department store. An encounter with one of his college English professors, who encouraged him to go back to college, put him on the path where he still is after 40 years — in education.

When his professor heard that he had dropped out of school, he was “flabberghasted,” Litchfield said.

“He asked me if I was coming back and I said I’m not sure and if I do come back I don’t know what to major in. He told me I was great in English,” Litchfield said.

Litchfeid admitted that he still was unsure what he would do with a degree in English. He thought maybe law, but his girlfriend and future wife was in education and encouraged him to try it.

“When I was a student I thought that was the last profession I wanted to undertake because I couldn’t understand how these men and women could take abuse the way they do from some students, and keep going forward. But I was looking through the eyes of a teenager when I did that,” he said.

Today he said he has a different perspective on the profession.

“It’s nice to know that somewhere along the line you’ve had a positive influence on someone’s life. I could go back through, and I think anyone can go back through his or her education, and think this teacher or that helped me do this or this teacher had a positive influence here and it’s a great feeling to know that you can do that,” he said. “I think that keeps me going more than anything.”

Although he still enjoys teaching after many years in the profession, he stressed that it is very challenging. Every year different children enter his classroom bringing with them different issues. Like so many teachers he sees the influence of technology, both good and bad, as a challenge.

“From the time I started children could be a challenge, but their distractions are different,” he said. “Now we have cell phones and we have computers and students want to be on those, they are media-driven, social media-driven. They want to stay in contact.”

He noted that students today tend not to be as motivated to read as their counterparts in the past.

“Unless a student reads there is no way he or she is going to be able to participate in analyzing what we read and discussing it and getting the benefit of learning how to think. I believe Einstein — the value of education is not in the memorization of material, although some facts are important, its more learning how to think,” he said.

Litchfield said that he feels people outside the education field don’t realize the demands of the profession. Teachers are at work from the time they enter, sometimes at 7 a.m., until the end of classes at 3 p.m. A teacher could also be involved in tutoring or other activities after school.

“School is becoming more like a home for some children. This is where they receive their meals, this is where they receive their culture training and their understanding of society and so, it’s not just English and history and math, religion and whatever else they take. It’s life, they’re learning to live life,” he said.

Although he is the teacher, Litchfield said that it’s really a reciprocal relationship between him and students in his classroom.

“You learn things from kids — that’s great. One of the biggest things I try to teach kids is be a lifelong learner,” he said. “That is so important. Keep your mind active and keep learning and keep applying what you know and you’ll find life to be rewarding.”

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