Matthew Fisher is an English teacher at Mt. Greylock who enjoys Bob Dylan, the New York Mets, and Sporcle: a trivia, quiz, and brain game website. The Echo sat down with Mr. Fisher to discuss his education, his past jobs, and how he came to be at Greylock.
Echo: Where did you grow up?
Mr. Fisher: I grew up in Middletown, NY, which is in Orange County, middle of nowhere, really. It’s in the Catskill Mountains region, between New York City and Albany. That’s why it’s called Middletown, because it’s in the middle (but not really).
Echo: What was the population?
Mr. Fisher: It’s actually a population of 25,000 to 30,000 people, but it was a town of 3,000 people while I was there. It was a really weird city, in that a good portion of the population were people who had lived there for generation and generations, and a good portion had just moved there, and there was a lot of tension between the old people and the new people. I was one of the new people thrown into that because my parents moved there when I was two and a half, so I grew up in a very weird time and place. Now it’s apparently really built up. They have two malls.
Echo: Where did you go to school?
Mr. Fisher: Middletown High School. And then when I graduated from there, Brandeis University, which was a very different place. From Middletown to Brandeis was an insane jump, but one I’m thrilled that I got to make.
Echo: What was your college experience like?
Mr. Fisher: Everything. When I left high school, I was the kid who knew everything. I was the one who sat back and didn’t learn a lot because I didn’t need to. I already knew it anyway. I was arrogant; I was full of myself. I graduated second in my class. I would have come in first if it weren’t for Trish, because Trish was perfect. She was. Trish was amazing. Nicest person you’ve ever met, too.
So I went to college, on a scholarship, thinking I was great. But in my first class the professor made a joke about Paradise Lost and everyone laughed and I’m like “What’s that?” And that’s when I realized I knew nothing, and that I had a lousy school, and I learned nothing there. I was in a place where everybody learned a lot and came from really good schools and understood things I didn’t understand. There was a nice learning curve for me there, and I worked pretty hard to try to make up that gap. And that was, I think, one of the best experiences I could ever have, because it made me more humble, and it made me recognize who I was and what makes somebody who they are. It’s not just them, it’s their experiences and where they came from and the people they were around. You have to be slow to judge because people can surprise you, you just don’t know where they come from.
While I was there I met my wife, my junior year, her freshman year, and that was a big part of my experience. I was also the editor of a magazine on campus. I helped write the school’s constitution. I worked for the school’s radio station. I was a music director for a while. I was on the debate team for a while. I did some political organizations. I was very busy, and it was fun.
Echo: Where did you go after that?
Mr. Fisher: I spent two years in Watertown where I was a newspaper reporter. That was while I was waiting for my wife to graduate. And then when she did, we went down to New York and I worked for a PR magazine there. I was miserable. And then after that ended, I was like, “What do I do now?” I was on the subway and I looked up and there was a sign for the teaching fellows program.
I was just kind of thrown in. I had two weeks of summer program and then voila, I’m supposed to know what I’m doing. Basically, I knew as much as you do about teaching. And I kind of learned on the job. I taught in a boys and girls high school in Brooklyn, a school of five thousand kids, It was an insane place, especially to learn how to teach. And I went to grad school to get my degree and actually learned what I was doing while I was doing it.
Echo: Where did you attend graduate school?
Mr. Fisher: I was at Brooklyn College, and it was part of the program, so I got to go for free. In exchange I worked full time, so that was a way to learn fast, and I think I learned differently because of that. I never learned the right way to do it, I just learned that it has to get done. Like, what can I do creatively to reach the goal that I want to reach, and not necessarily have to look for someone else who has done it before.
Echo: What brought you to the Berkshires?
Mr. Fisher: The other thing that was going on while I was teaching there was I was growing more and more miserable being in New York City. And it wasn’t the teaching part. I hated living in New York City. And after liking it for a while, I didn’t anymore, and it was too loud and it was too noisy, too much going on at all times. I needed to move somewhere quiet. And so my wife applied to a bunch of schools to get her PhD.
We ended up at University of Massachusetts at Boston. I decided that I wasn’t going to teach in the city. I needed to get out of the city, so I ended up teaching in Hingham, Mass, a suburb to the south of Boston, right on the water. It was very wealthy and quiet, the exact opposite of everything I had done up to that point. Which was wonderful, because I got to see the other side. A bunch of teachers who were really well educated and dedicated, and they put everything they had into it. They were fantastic at their jobs. Just by breathing in the same air, I was learning from them. It was fantastic. The only problem was that I was still just a little too close to Boston, and it was still too urban for me. So after doing that for four years, my wife had finished her classes, and she asked me “What do you think about having kids?” and it was hilarious because I had just been thinking that at the same time, so we decided to just get out of there. I had to stay in Massachusetts because otherwise I’d have to do a whole lot of stuff with my license, so I said “Let’s just go to Western Mass.” I applied to every district west of Worcester, and Greylock called me.
Actually, I had first been called by Lenox, and I went to their interview and I was really wowed by that school, but it was a lot like my school in Eastern Massachusetts. It was pretty intense, but I really liked the person who interviewed me. I was disappointed because I wasn’t going to be able to work with Mrs. MacDonald because I thought she was really cool. (I didn’t know she was going to end up being my principal later!)
But I turned it down, so Greylock called me and asked if I could come for an interview, and I said “Sure when?” And they said the date and I was like “I can’t, my wife has a doctor’s appointment and she’s nine months pregnant, I can’t just let her go into Boston by herself!” And they said “Well that’s the only day we’re interviewing,” and I said “Well I can’t do it then, I’m sorry.” Mr. Payne called me himself a little while later, and said “Can we do a phone interview instead? We really want to interview you.” So I stayed home from school during finals and I stayed in my pajamas in my room and I did an interview with a board of ten people from the school, including Ms. Ames and few other people and a few students, and they offered me the job, and I said “I can’t actually accept this until I see where I’m going!” And so I drove out here and I thought it’s beautiful out here, especially coming from where I was, and as I turned into the parking lot I just looked at the whole scenery and I was like “Crap, this is where I’m teaching next year.” That was it, and I was here, and I’ve been here ever since and hopefully a while longer.