Teacher Feature: Mr. Hoffman

by Regan Brady and Lina Ghosh

Mr. Hoffman is entering his 35th year as a teacher at HB, yet many students know little about him besides that he is a Greenbay Packers and Grateful Dead fan. We interviewed the famed AGRIP and US History teacher to learn a bit more about his past.

Did you have a nickname? How’d you get it?

Growing up,  I had several nicknames. My father called me Cully, the high school football coach called me Dutch, another football coach called me Hoffy.  Well, hold it, last year’s senior class–some of them would call me “Carl.”  Mrs.  Cornwell told me some of them were telling each other,  “Carl is coming to tonight’s performance.”

What would you do if a student fell asleep during class?

I probably wouldn’t do anything. For instance, I’ve had 9th graders fall asleep.  In the old days, I asked the person sitting next to them to shake them awake. Nowadays, I figure that if a student is sleeping, then she needs it. I’m a big fan of sleeping myself.

What is the funniest thing that has happened while you were at HB?

The time I was bitten by a Chagrin Falls girl at an HB dance. Mr. Dubow said he was imagining the article in the newspaper to be titled “Hoffman says,’Dance Bites It.’”

What do teachers laugh about in the teacher lounge?

Sometimes we laugh about what students say in class, and we laugh about popular culture…and we laugh about laughing with colleagues.

Who sits at your lunch table?

I often sit at the same lunch table with Ms. Geaghan, Madame Lhomet, Ms. Hiedemann, Mrs. Cornwell, and Mr. Morse. They are my most accomplished lunch companions, who are very polished and funny.

AGRIP or US History?

AGRIP.  We have a terrific class, which is a very bright and very vocal class. Everyone is very lively.  On the other hand, US History is full of intense, bright, committed students.  I treasure that, too.

List three adjectives to describe yourself?

1. I’m a perfectionist about grammar/punctuation, especially comma splices, capitals, run-ons, and sentence fragments.

2. My mind jumps around a lot.  It can go through three topics in ten seconds.

3. I like to think that I am jolly.  Santa Claus is my role model.

What Green Bay Packer merchandise do you own?

I have pins, a lanyard that says Green Bay Packers, lots of clothing to wear on game days, two stocking caps with a G on them.  A few years ago for Christmas I got a jacket in Packers’ colors that says “Carl” above the breast pocket.  I have a collection of buttons that also serve as tie tacks.  My favorite one says “13 Time World Champions” and lists the years they won.  In case your readers don’t already know it, the Packers have won more championships than any other American football team.

When did you know that you wanted to be a teacher?

The first thing I wanted to be was a writer. For undergraduate, I went to the University of Iowa in Iowa City, which is famous for its graduate writer’s workshop. When I got my B.A., I wasn’t accepted into that workshop, but I was accepted to one at the University of Alabama–Tuscaloosa, and ended up working very hard there to get my MFA. Over the years I’ve had about 25 stories and essays published, but I still don’t have a published book.  I’m working on that, but more intermittently than I should be.  Someday soon I’ll do it with more determination.

As for teaching, it was very difficult to find a job. Between 1980-81 I circulated 250 applications, and by the end of the year had received 15 callbacks/interviews. It was a long, drawn-out process, which included colleges and universities as well as advertising agencies and independent schools. I ultimately came to HB, and that was one of the best and most important moves of my life.  After a few years I discovered that I liked teaching history more than teaching English. I think history is my true calling–I’ve been studying it (formally and informally) since I was in kindergarten.

HB is a terrific, lively place to work, but when I retire I still would like to be a writer.

Would you rather go to a Green Bay Packers game or a Grateful Dead concert?

I would prefer to go to a Grateful Dead concert because I will know what’s going to happen. I have been to two Grateful Dead concerts, both in Iowa, in 1971 and 1972.  Jerry Garcia was still alive then, and I think those concerts were tremendous blessings because I was actually in the same room with him.  I saw him in the flesh–a musical genius, and also a very flawed human being that died of drugs long before his time.  Those concerts I saw him and the rest of the band were moments of grace, which also touched and helped me personally.  The Dead song “Uncle John’s Band” is #1 on my all-time Top 10.  Not only is it a great piece of music, but it also helped me get out of a long-term depression after a terrible break-up.

Today I find it amazing that Jerry Garcia has become a secular saint who’s still loved and remembered twenty years after his death. There were the reunion concerts this past summer. And I keep seeing his face on the magazine rack at CVS.  Also, I play the band on YouTube regularly.

I love the Packers, too (of course), but even with great players like Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre, I can’t be confident they’ll win.  Watching the games on TV is often a really unpleasant experience, since I don’t know the outcome in advance, and I identify so closely with the Packers that every time they lose it feels like a personal defeat.  However, whether the Packers win or not is definitely a First World problem, and I’m working on getting less emotional about it. I’m sure my sons think I’m wacky. Although they’re too polite to give me a hard time about it.

What kind of student were you?

I was always a very good student, starting in third grade when I got my first report cards.  I always worked hard in school. I also liked to play board games about wars with my friends. Now I play them on the computer.  I went out for my junior and senior high school football teams, but I wasn’t very good at that. The games I played in the 60s were board war games; most were about the American Civil War or World War II, and were somewhat like Risk, which I also played.  Right now my computer games are about World War II and the Napoleonic wars.

What is your favorite part of HB?

Grace.  “Grace” has a number of meanings, but the one I’m thinking of is the feeling I get at special unexpected moments in the auditorium or my classes.  They’re spontaneous and unexpected and make me feel as if I’m connected to my students and colleagues and other people in the world. This type of moment happens regularly at HB.  A specific example of this was eating lunch in the outdoor cafe part of the lunch-room and the orchestra was rehearsing.  I think it was Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. The sun was shining through the ceiling and for a few minutes we were all lifted to a different level by the music and the light.  I’ve felt the same way visiting cathedrals in Europe–but as I say, at HB it happens several times a semester.  It’s really special and really tremendous.