The Student News Site of Greenhills School




24+ year teachers take a moment to reflect

There are a few teachers who have taught at Greenhills longer than the graduating class have been alive. They stay because of the quality of the students and Greenhills’ unwavering commitment to education.

Committing to anything for over 20 years is a powerful feat – let alone committing to a single institution. Chatting with teachers who have taught at Greenhills for over 20 years is similar to conversing with walking encyclopedias of school history and wisdom. Having been here for at least a third of Greenhills’ history, they have seen many ups and downs – from how education has evolved to the constantly changing faces (and fashion trends) in the yearbooks. For Eric Gajar, Associate Director of Enrollment Management, his journey from being a stockbroker in downtown Detroit to winding up in a classroom was certainly unanticipated.

“I had graduated as a finance major,” said Gajar. “But I didn’t click with the business I worked for – it was a bad fit. However, I had always coached tennis and been a camp counselor, and something told me that that was just what I liked to do. So I went back to graduate school, got a math degree at the University of Michigan, because you can do anything with math, then got a teaching certificate at Eastern Michigan University. I started teaching part-time at Ann Arbor Public Schools, then Community, and after getting a position here, I really liked it, and stayed. Education was always the right place, it just took me a little while to figure it out.”

GROWING UP WITH GAJAR An array of yearbook photos of Eric Gajar, currently the Associate Director of Enrollment Management, from 1997 to 2023. When asked how he would like his students to remember him, Gajar said, “As someone who was always there, willing to listen, and cared. But most importantly, that I knew them as more than just a student in my class – that I knew them in every play, musical, and game, and they have little stories about our waves in the hallway or coming out of the tennis courts.”

Gajar, who started his 29th year at Greenhills this school year, certainly aligned immediately with the Gryphon culture. However, for Catherine Novak, a French Teacher, who is in the midst of her 24th year at Greenhills, there was certainly a bit of a culture shock coming from France.

“I remember my first day teaching, a student came with a can of Coke, and it is known in France that you don’t come into the classroom with drinks,” said Novak. “I asked her, ‘Do you want a hammock too?’ and all the kids just stared at me, then started laughing. That’s when I realized that, culturally speaking, things are way more relaxed here. Students are way happier.”

NONSTOP NOVAK Catherine Novak, French Teacher, sporting short haircuts and updos for her 2002 and 2023 yearbook photos. When asked how she would like her students to remember her, Novak said, “I can be a pain sometimes, but I’m fair, and extremely ethical.”















Speaking of students, Jeffrey Allen, Department Chair of Modern and Classical Languages, who is also in his 24th year with Greenhills, believes that the quality of the faculty and students has not changed.

“Something that has kept me happy here from the very beginning was the dedication of the people who chose to work here,” said Allen. “The vast amount of energy that people put into their teaching always impresses me. As for the students, one of the things I found interesting about them is that many times, they knew I had come from teaching at public schools, so they would ask, ‘Are we your best class ever?’ The thing is, I had good students in public school too. It’s just that now, I have smaller classes, and I had more good students in a smaller class than I ever had before.”

24 YEARS OF BEARD Jeffrey Allen, Department Chair of Modern and Classical Languages, rocking the same beard in his 2002 and 2023 yearbook photos. When asked about how he would like to be remembered by his students, Allen said, “Could you remember me? Would you remember me? I hope I did something that was memorable for you, and not negatively, even if there were those too.”

Mark Randolph, Upper School English Teacher and Head Varsity Girls Tennis Coach, who is in his 27th year with Greenhills, couldn’t agree more about the caliber of students.

“During my first year of teaching here, after the first marking period, everyone in the class was going to get an A or an A-, and I was horrified,” said Randolph. “I went to Lorne Forstner, Head of Upper School at the time, and said, ‘I’m sorry, but I have to do it. I can see every one of these kids in a major profession or graduate school after college.’ To that, Lorne said, ‘That is what Greenhills is.’ This place has an extraordinary consistency of talent, and it is clear that these students operate at a different level. I mean, I can do things with my students and texts that my colleagues around the country can’t do. For instance, even when I do Chaucer, I teach it in middle English. However, I know professors who need to translate it for their undergraduates.”

REFLECTING WITH RANDY Yearbook photos of Mark Randolph, Upper School English Teacher, from 2002 to 2023. When asked how he would like his students to remember him, Randolph said, “I’d like my students to not remember me. A good teacher disappears in the act of teaching, and all that remains is the lesson. It is a self-consuming artifact. There are people who want to be rockstars. I never wanted to be that, I wanted to be a folk singer.”

“There are so many, millions of moments that have touched me,” said Randolph. “Almost every single student, of the thousands of students that I’ve had, have had one moment where they allowed me to teach them and they discovered something. For example, I’ve taken 16 trips to Chicago with the Shakespeare class, four trips to England, and spent almost thirty years coaching tennis. Just being with you guys and seeing you enthusiastic about something that I’m enthusiastic about is amazing.”

On the other hand, Gajar was able to identify his most meaningful teaching experience.

“One of my favorite stories is there was a kid in my class that was always down on himself about his abilities and what he was going to do,” said Gajar. “I wrote him a note on something, like a test or an assignment, that read something along the lines of ‘Don’t let anything get you down, I believe in you, you got this.’ Years later he came back after he had graduated and got into grad school, and told me that whenever he got bummed out, he would pull out my note. I had no idea.”

For Steven Oestreich, Wellness Teacher and Athletic Trainer, who is in his 34th year with Greenhills, the unique personalities and attitudes of each student are what have kept him smiling throughout the years.

“I had a sixth grade kid who just didn’t like what the instructions were – for some reason, he just hated them. So he turned around and flipped me right off, and I couldn’t do anything but laugh. He was just a tiny kid, so it was a juxtaposition of sorts. I ended up going to his grad party. I always love graduation – when you see kids you had in middle school up onstage, the journey they’ve made, and who they’ve grown into in the course of their time here.”

30 YEARS OF STEVE-O A picture of Steven Oestreich, Wellness Teacher and Athletic Trainer, in 1997. When asked how he would like his students to remember him, Oestreich replied, “Tough, caring, but fair. I hope they know that I got their back when it comes down to it – I just get very protective of kids and their experiences.”

Allen and Novak, language teachers who teach both middle and upper school classes, also elaborated on how fascinating it is to watch students spend middle and high school at Greenhills.

“I can see you at eleven years old and I can see you at eighteen years old,” said Allen. “I can also see you at 30 years old when you come to visit and say that you are exactly where you should be and I am proud to be associated with you. Whenever Greenhills graduates come back, they give me a kind of reassurance that yes, the things we did here mattered to people, and they’ve gone on to become the kind of people we hope they would become.”

“I know that Greenhills is a great place for students to be, and for most of the students, it’s an extension of home,” said Novak. “Every first day of school, it’s always so exciting to see new students and returning ones that are growing, and doing more incredible things as they get older.”

However, no matter how exciting it is to watch students mature into distinctive individuals, Allen understands that there is an endearing repetitiveness in teaching.

“I think teachers have a way of talking to students that can sometimes be very predictable,” said Allen. “I remember at one point, a student was really really late for a deadline, and the student came in, probably ten minutes before I was going to leave, 30 minutes after school had let out. She goes, ‘Mr. Allen, I’ve got what you need.’ I say, ‘Well, young lady, what have we learned from this?’ or some other predictable teacher thing. She answered, but then went, ‘You’ll probably have to teach me this again next year.’ And that just perfectly summed up not only her unique way of doing things, but everything about being a teacher.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Alcove Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *