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When Joseph Anastasio learned he would be the new associate principal of Old Saybrook High School (OSHS), he wanted to mark the moment. What he really wanted was to find a sculpture of the school's mascot, a ram, for his desk. So he decided to go on eBay-and he found his ram.
Since he joined the administrative team on July 1, Joseph has spent his time getting to know the school and those in the school community: the staff, the parents, and the kids.
"I feel very fortunate to be here. It seems like a perfect fit. There's a very dedicated faculty and a terrific leadership team," Joseph says. "And I've been impressed with how involved the community is in the school and in the lives of the students."
Previously, Joseph was an English teacher leader and English teacher at Bacon Academy for 21 years. Moving to OSHS, he takes on a new mantle, that of a school administrator.
"Now I'm moving into a more global role, looking after the needs of everyone," he continues. "But my favorite part of this job will be getting into the classroom and talking to the kids, building relationships with them."
His choice to become an English teacher was not obvious. It took a history professor, a Professor Collier at the University of Connecticut, to put him on that path.
"Originally, I was a history major. For Professor Collier's history class, I wrote a paper on John Brown. I opened the paper with a creative writing piece about the trial, written like historical fiction. Then I continued with the research part," says Joseph. "When Professor Collier returned the paper to me, he gave me an A+-and he asked my major. When I said history, he said, 'Change it to English'-and I did.
"I always enjoyed writing and working with kids, so teaching was just a natural choice," says Joseph.
Joseph began writing when he asked his students to write. Since they shared their work with him, he asked them if they would like to hear what he'd written.
"After I read them the first chapter of the book I'd written out loud to my students, they were silent. But they said they wanted to hear more, and that gave me the confidence to keep writing," he continued.
The first chapter of the young adult book Mist that he wrote he then submitted to the PEN New England contest-and it was one of the winners.
In recent years, between teaching, going to school for his administrators certification, and raising a growing family, he's had less time to write, but he still loves it and would like to carve out more time for it.
Asked which books were his favorite ones to teach, he lists a few.
"I enjoyed teaching Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451. There are a lot of issues [in the books], issues of censorship and privacy, to draw connections [for the students] between the book and now," says Joseph."
He also liked to teach Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. The book tells the true story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, who decided to hitchhike to Alaska and walk alone into wilderness areas north of Mt. McKinley to live. His decomposed body was discovered four months later by a hunter.
"I enjoyed learning the students' impression of [Christopher] McCandless. Was he noble and to be admired, or is he someone who made a tragic mistake?" says Joseph. "To Kill a Mockingbird is another one I loved to teach."
He would take the students through Atticus Finch's summation-and then ask them whether it works. He notes that in the book, the logical arguments fail to persuade, but in today's context, the arguments are convincing and persuasive. As a teacher, he loved the discussions that books like this would spur.
"Books like these can propel students to higher-order thinking through discussion," says Joseph.
For now, Joseph is stepping away from the teaching role, but his enthusiasm for engaging students, challenging them to think critically, and getting to know them as individuals will still be his mission.
"It's important to be out, to be engaged, and visible. I plan to be actively involved in the school community," says Joseph.