Upper school English teacher Dr. Matthew Clothier relishes in the college-like atmosphere at Pembroke Hill.
Dr. Matthew Clothier's excitement is infectious as he talks about teaching in the upper school English department at PHS. “I love the energy our students bring every day and the interactions I have with them. I have a great group of colleagues in the upper school, especially in the English department. The school provides me with the autonomy in my choice of books to teach, and I have the freedom to choose how academic and rigorous I make each class. I feel more invested in my students’ success in comparison to teaching in college.”
Matthew crossed paths with his future career while looking for a class to fill his general education requirements for his architectural engineering degree at Oklahoma State University. “I saw Introduction to Literature, and I hadn’t considered English before,” he said. “It was fun and enjoyable, and I was good at it.”
Matthew switched majors and got his undergraduate degree at OSU in English, then received his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Kansas. “When I started graduate school, I was given a freshman composition class to teach. I taught it all the way through school and discovered I liked teaching.”
The education bug runs in the Clothier family. His mother has been a high school secretary in Delaware for 30 years, and his brother is a high school social studies teacher. “I was looking for teaching positions at colleges or elsewhere after my wife and I moved to Kansas City, and I talked with my family about the differences between college and high school,” he explained. “I was a little hesitant about teaching in secondary education, because in college there is more freedom, and the academic atmosphere is inspiring. In high school, I based my thinking on my own experiences and memories of school. But my brother and mother really enjoyed working with high school students. You get to see them everyday and get to know them on a more personal level.”
As he researched options around the city, he found Pembroke Hill was a top school. It was different than his expectations. “Oh my goodness! The school is as close to a college atmosphere as you can get,” he shared. “I have the best of both worlds!"
He discussed the complexities of his classes, including discussions on Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass poem collection in his American Civics English course. In the poems, Whitman presents his views on America in the 1850s, exploring its values and identity. Matthew challenged his students to create their own poem capturing their visions and values of the country we live in today. “It was an interesting assignment, because you were able to see their different criticisms or praises of our country, and their unique viewpoints,” Matthew said. “The contrast between modern day versus Whitman’s era is fascinating.”
Matthew challenges his students to think about issues more critically, and that there isn’t just one answer. “I have some younger students who want me to tell them what the text means. But with English and literature there is a complexity of answers. So we ask them to explore reasons for why the text may not make sense. English isn’t just about learning grammar and how to write, it’s also about tackling big ideas that are more complicated and tough.”
Matthew says he enjoys being a part of the PHS community. "It provided my family a gateway into Kansas City as we were new to the area. I also get to see students and their families grow and change, and that sense of continuity can really sustain a teacher."