Frank Thoms

On Del's Shoulders

May 20, 2023 by Frank Thoms

I was in my first classroom at Hanover Junior-Senior High in Hanover NH. A man with wisps of hair on his temples, wireless-rimmed glasses, in a sport jacket and tie, and wearing LL Bean moccasins stepped into the room. “I am Del Goodwin, chairman of the social studies department. I understand, Tommy, that you went to Wesleyan.”

He called me by my childhood name! No one except my family used that name. I was transfixed. How on earth did he know that? After some exchanges, he asked if he could co-teach my senior problems of democracy class. “Those seniors can be a rough bunch,” he said. Co-teach? I never heard of that. A man I barely met who wants to teach my one senior class with me. He’s the department chairman. How could I say no? Besides, he was offering a new path for teaching. Intriguing.

That was Del Goodwin. No matter the context, he would have his way. Dealing with reluctant colleagues in the department, he kept them in the loop. He stepped into areas where he believed he could make a difference; as chairman of social studies in the junior-senior high he took the liberty to bring the elementary school’s teachers into his vision. He held all students accountable; he held a student from a prominent family from graduating until she passed in her research paper. Just before graduation, she relented.

Co-teaching with Del was illuminating. He created a curriculum to meet the needs of our lower-tracked seniors. I often felt like an apprentice (for which I was grateful), the new teacher in his shadow who also wore a tweed sport coat and tie––and LL Bean moccasins.

And his lasting benchmark was fulfilling his request to me at a department meeting in the spring of my first year: “Tommy, I want you to develop a new area studies course in the eighth grade. It needs to be dynamic and exciting. It should focus on Latin America, South Africa, and Russia and the Soviet Union. I think this course is right for you. You are the one who can do it.”

I did, and it changed my teaching life, his shoulders firmly under me. And in our years together, Del Goodwin never called me Frank.