They say you can’t go back, but you can – after you’ve graduated college (Harvard!) and been in the work force for a decade – anyway. Karan Lodha ’04 spent the last five months substituting for Harker teacher Cyrus Merrill, who has been out on paternity leave. Lodha taught grade 8 history classes and had his own learning experiences along the way.
“It’s been a thrilling semester learning how to be a guide and a mentor for my students,” said Lodha. “In the first few weeks, there were moments where I felt like an impostor, but I was lucky to have two weeks with Mr. Merrill in which he taught me how to balance sharing my personality with the students, while maintaining the order and discipline necessary to be an effective teacher. Of course, the most rewarding part has been watching my students learn and grow over the last five months.”
Lodha reached a point in his post-academic career where he was looking for a way to contribute more to society. “I’ve often thought about a career transition to teaching,” he said. “Although I enjoyed my experience in the technology industry, I was always searching for a way to have a more direct impact. I fondly remembered my experiences as a student at Harker, and I stayed in touch with some of my former teachers – and it struck me just how much they had shaped my life.”
After a frustrating experience at his last job, Lodha decided to try moving into full-time teaching. He reached out to former teachers, including Bradley Stoll, his former calculus teacher at Harker. “Mr. Stoll was kind enough to arrange for me to come visit Harker to shadow in the history and math departments, which included sitting in on a class with Donna Gilbert (my former AP European History teacher!).
“Spending those two days at Harker made me realize how connected I still felt to the community here. I visited the Harker careers page and, with the encouragement of Ms. Gilbert and Ruth Meyer in the high school history department, I applied to the opening for the long-term substitute to fill in for Cyrus Merrill while he was on paternity leave.”
Once in the classroom, Lodha had to make it all work. “I had two big challenges,” he said. “The first was learning to call my former teachers and coaches – now my colleagues – by their first names! It was awkward for a few weeks, and even now, I have to fight the feeling that I’m being disrespectful, even when I know I’m not.
“In the classroom, the most challenging aspect for me was learning what pace, depth and difficulty was appropriate for my students. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the eighth grade, so I often found myself leaning on my colleagues, especially Ramsay Westgate, a fellow eighth grade history teacher, to get a better grasp of how best to adapt material, homework and tests to make them accessible to all my students. Of course, many of my students weren’t too shy about expressing their own opinions on the matter!”
The return has been rewarding. “The most fun part of teaching at Harker has been being part of the larger community. I’ve loved going to my students’ concerts, performances and sporting events. After all, Harker students are talented in so many ways, and it’s great to see my students express their passions outside the classroom. As a former Harker athlete and debater, I also still feel the pull of the rivalries with other schools from all those years ago!”
Being on the other side of the teacher’s desk has been enlightening and memorable. “Almost every day and every week has something to remember: a student exceeding his or her potential in an unusual way, a particularly creative project or interpretation that caught my eye, or a joke or a moment that had the whole class in laughter,” said Lodha. “My recollection of this semester will be like one of those collages that has many small photos creating a larger one; there may be one or two bigger themes, but it’s those hundreds of individual memories that really build up to what I’ll take into the years of teaching to come.”
And those years will gain traction at Harker. “I was fortunate enough to receive an offer to join the middle school math department next year,” said Lodha, “so I will be transitioning subjects but remaining a part of this wonderful community.”
Welcome home, Karan!