Jonathan Quick, in his second year at Nueva, teaches upper school English and is the ninth-grade co-dean. In this conversation, we hear about Jonathan’s unique path to Nueva, the importance of reading with his family, and his love of National Parks. We also learn a bit about the teachers who played a formative role in Jonathan’s life.
Jim Morrison: Jonathan, your first experience working at Nueva was as a guest teacher. Can you tell us how that came to be, what you did during that class, and what the path was from there to your current role at Nueva?
Jonathan Quick: Allen Frost and I overlapped a year in graduate school, and he got me connected to Nueva. During his first year here, he taught ninth grade English which, at the time, included a unit on Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Allen knew that my research focus was medieval literature and reached out to me to ask if I was interested in visiting his classes to speak “as an expert” about Chaucer, Middle English, and the literature of the Tales. I took him up on the offer, and I had a blast! I made a short presentation and worksheet for the students, but I gave them a lot of time to ask whatever they wanted about Chaucer, language, and what was going on in the pilgrims’ stories. I loved the curiosity, energy, and flexibility the students brought to the classroom.
For the following two years, Alexa Hart invited me back to do the same sort of visit for all sections of ninth grade English. Each experience was as memorable and engaging as my first visit, and Allen and Alexa encouraged me to keep Nueva and secondary education in the back of my mind as I continued through graduate school. The longer I spent immersed in the world of higher education, the less enamored with it I became. Some things that attracted me to the English teaching position are the classroom environment—I just love being in the classroom—and the innovation and freedom teachers bring to those classrooms.
I’ve always enjoyed working with young people (I was a summer camp counselor all through college and worked full time at a summer camp for a little over two years after college), and I really like literature and language, which I studied in graduate school. This position at Nueva is a wonderful blend of these two chapters of my life.
JM: Is there a moment in your life you can point to that led to the realization that you wanted to become an educator?
JQ: I don’t know if I can pinpoint a particular moment, but I can speak about a number of educators I have had that were particularly formative for me. For the sake of time and space, here are two. These teachers both saw and understood me and were great at their teaching craft.
The first was my high school Latin teacher. As a high school student, I was more interested in math and science. Calculus made sense to me (when I was 16; not so much today—so don’t ask me about differentials!). However, Latin was my favorite subject. I learned more about the English language in Latin class than in English class. Similar to why I loved calculus, Latin gave me an opportunity to make meaning from a puzzle. It was code breaking and mystery solving, and my teacher blended the perfect amount of challenge, encouragement, and fun into all four years of Latin class.
The second was a professor I had as an undergraduate. I ended up as an English major by accident, really. I started off with a major that prescribed each class I’d take for all four years of my college experience. I didn’t love being herded through my program so I looked for a major with a little more flexibility. English allowed me to take an extraordinary amount of electives, which is what I really wanted out of college. The problem was that I didn’t really enjoy my English classes until I took a post-Civil War American literature class. When we started looking at poetry from the Harlem Renaissance and early 20th century Imagist poetry something clicked in the way that the professor talked about how to read a poem. In a shocked daze, I meandered into his office hours and told him about myself (including my love of Latin), and he recommended that I look into medieval English literature because it would combine my interest in old languages with my newfound interest in short lyrical verse.
JM: We connected earlier in the year at an event at Lee Fertig’s house and upon hearing that you read with your children daily, I recommended reading some books from the Ramona Quimby series with your child who was about to start kindergarten. Can you share your thoughts on the role reading with your family has played in your household and maybe a little bit about the power books have to spark important conversations?
JQ: Yes, when things went remote in 2020 my kids were in second grade, first grade, and preschool. As our world became limited to the confines of our home (i.e, as we sheltered in place), we ramped up the amount of family reading in our household. Pre-pandemic, we read fairly regularly, but we really increased our family reading time once we cloistered together. We read some of the major book series—such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The City of Ember —along with some standalone classics (some of which I hadn’t read)—including Hatchet, Phantom Tollbooth, and a number of Roald Dahl books. Some of our reading bouts would be over an hour and a half long! Also, I loved trying my hand at different voices and accents—and this kept our reading challenging for me. But, yes, Jim, you suggested the Ramona books which were perfect for my youngest who started kindergarten this year. Thank you!
What was most surprising about the family reading experience to me was how often my kids would return to books we’d read as a family. My two older children would pick up a book and re-read these books on their own. They wanted to make sure they captured every detail from these stories, which then turned into wonderful opportunities to talk about what makes a great story, what attracts us to certain tales, and what kind of world we daydream about living in. But, especially with the Ramona books, we got to pause and ask how a character was feeling and how would we feel if we found ourselves in their situation. These literary-based conversations were a wonderful way to end each day.
JM: Something else we have in common is our love of national parks. I know it is hard—maybe impossible—but do you have a favorite park and if so, why is it your favorite?
JQ: I remember going to a handful of national parks growing up, but with my children I think we’ve been to about twelve so far. So many more to go! Yosemite has so many wonderful things that it’s near the top of a favorite list, but I think my current personal favorite is Carlsbad Caverns.
First off, don’t let the bat smell at the entrance deter you; once you venture deeper the air gets better. I remember thinking that I was walking towards the end of one cave or chamber, but then you step through a gap in the stone to go even deeper into the earth. It just keeps going, and each chamber has its own personality and features. It’s a world beneath the surface of the earth, and it makes you feel really small compared to wonders around you.
Briefly, I also enjoyed Zion, Mesa Verde, and Crater Lake, but we have many more to go! I think Redwoods is our next adventure.
JM: One final question that I ask all of the interviewees: Know a good literature-themed jokes?
JQ: This one is more grammar than literature, but:
To whom! (But you have to say it like an exasperated English teacher.)
Know any great literature-themed jokes? Have you had a teacher or professor that inspired you in a big way? We would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.