By Ferenc Somogyi ’21
It takes more than innate talent to be a remarkable teacher. Beyond just having expertise in a specific subject, a remarkable teacher must have the people skills necessary to relate to students and the unquenchable belief in the bigger mission of educating young minds. Beyond just imparting facts or theories, a remarkable teacher must truly be a renaissance educator – someone who can balance with extreme precision the demands of his subject, the needs of his students, the requirements of his life, and all the other beneficial quirks that make that teacher who he is. Mr. Nolan meets these requirements.
Mr. Ed Nolan is a renaissance teacher.
His thirty years of experience in teaching have formed a man whose wisdom is seldom matched. His perception of chemistry, his signature subject, reputedly makes him one of the most challenging science teachers at Saint Ignatius, but also one of the most satisfying. His wit counterpoises his academic prestige. It is through his humor and lightheartedness that Mr. Nolan connects with his students. This lightheartedness, coupled with a realization that his subject matter is not the most important thing his students can learn from him, makes Mr. Nolan remarkable.
A typical chemistry class with Mr. Nolan has a predictable, yet equally mysterious format. Students walk in with their heavy backpacks and dangling gym bags, immediately referencing the board or Mr. Nolan (usually focused on some computer work) to figure out where to put their “stuph,” as Mr. Nolan says. They then proceed to their seats with their chemistry binders and notebooks, and Mr. Nolan proceeds to deliver a few jokes, many dripping with his unmistakable and unforgettably perfect sense of dry humor. Prayer from a signature small daily prayer book follows. Mr. Nolan always has special intentions, many of them from his experience with Labre and other service initiatives. After prayer and a few more jokes or the occasional short inspirational or lesson-teaching speech, chemistry instruction and learning begins. Mr. Nolan’s skills with chemistry gently guide students to enlightenment, yet as the school year progresses, students realize more and more how much deeper the purpose of Mr. Nolan’s class is.
Mr. Nolan has never been “just about chemistry.” His interests range from his time doing Ignatian service to cycling to short films. Most importantly, however, his commitment to God and to his students is clearly visible. Mr. Nolan cares – and students know it. In fact, Mr. Nolan makes a point to talk to students and make sure their school year, and lives, are going well.
Mr. Nolan’s class is never too heavy on the serious or the sad. He has the courage and humility to laugh at his own mistakes, as well as a good-natured ability to lighten up his students and laugh with them. Mr. Nolan goes from being a regular teacher at the school year’s start to a remarkable mentor to students at year’s end. It is with regret that students depart his class as the year closes.
It is this legacy of comfortable inspiration that Mr. Nolan has created. Without being too imposing or too distant, Mr. Nolan inspires his students and colleagues to think harder, reach farther, be kinder, and never every give in to feeling hopeless. He has left an indelible mark on Saint Ignatius that will not be forgotten, but become a special legacy left to the school with the coming of his retirement at the end of this school year.
And even though his last students will soon walk out his classroom door one final time, wishing Mr. Nolan a “good day” and laughing at a comment of his as they go, the life lessons they learned from this remarkable educator will remain with them.
Thank you, Mr. Nolan. May you enjoy all the best in your well-deserved retirement.