Vatche Hagopian: Cultural Conduit

Vatche Hagopian: Cultural Conduit

By Mel Malmberg

Peter Bachmann often says Prep is a boarding school disguised as a day school, where lifelong relationships are nurtured among a close-knit group of faculty and students. How is that culture passed down? How do new teachers learn that guiding students as human beings is just as important as guiding them as scholars?

Math teacher Vatche Hagopian, who has taught at Prep since 1986, felt that to become true members of the community, new faculty needed a formal mentoring program that combined the personal and the professional. Bachmann and the Board approved his idea ten years ago, and now Hagopian serves as first-year teachers’ “guardian angel,” according to Jen Bascom, who started at Prep in 2015.

Hagopian shares with them “the who’s who, the what’s what, the when’s when.” In August, the group meets on campus for a tour and a talk fest in Hagopian’s classroom, where his photos from threeplus decades at Prep decorate the walls. Hagopian describes Prep’s vision of a knit-together campus, where teachers bond with students and each other by being visible on campus, involved in students’ and colleagues’ lives.

When school starts, he sends new faculty a biweekly email that includes a schedule of games, dances and performances, noting that while these dates are handy for scheduling tests, they are also opportunities to get involved.

Hagopian’s guiding hand is ever present. His advice applies as much in the classroom as in the faculty lounge: “Be patient; be a role model; keep your sense of humor; your heart and compassion are a better measure of your success than your brilliance.” “I tell new teachers, ‘There are common threads among us, but your own eccentricity, your values, your uniqueness, spunk—let it shine,’” Hagopian says. “Our students and faculty value different perspectives among the faculty and our relationships with each other.”

New science teacher David Herman says Hagopian keeps him laughing and “provides guidance and familiarity. He tells us, ‘We’re here for you, and everything is going to work out.’ I echo this same advice to my students. We really are all in it together, just like he says.”

“If I’ve done my job right,” Hagopian says, “by year two, teachers have created their own support systems. I want them to make a home here, to see what it’s like to go to former students’ weddings, to teach former students’ kids. They will become a part of Prep and let Prep be a part of them.”