Tom Earle ’65 Retires with 45 Years of Memories

By Tom Earle ’65

Tom Earle ’65 in his classroom, amid a backdrop of Greek mythology masks made by his seventh-grade English students. 

I recently gave Punahou my collection of grade books – 45 years’ worth – covering 1974 to 2019. While grade books are an anachronism today, since we’ve moved to online grading, I made a conscious decision to stick with them so I could turn over a complete record to the School’s archives. There will never be another collection like it.

The grade books sent me on a trip down memory lane. I read names and conjured images of seventh- and eighth-graders from the past. Well over 4,000 students have graced my English classroom, and there have been thousands more I have interacted with while working on Punahou’s theatrical productions, running the Damon Speeches, and coaching cross country and track. My oldest students must now be in their 50s, while others will be in their 40s, 30s, 20s and even teens. Perhaps you, dear reader, were one of them.

One reason I stayed at Punahou so long is because students learn best when they are having fun, and I was having fun along with them. That’s why we built models of the Titanic and stress-tested them in the swimming pool, made replicas of Ice Man’s tools, turned revising papers into baseball games, allowed audience vocalizations during Oxford Debate, and created theatre masks to enact scenes from ancient Greek drama.

However, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Although teaching is fun, there is a wistful aspect to the profession. That’s because every year, teachers develop special rapport with their students, and when they move on, the rapport naturally diminishes. I have always regretted that I could not sustain my good relationships with so many of you once you left the middle school, but please know that you were another of the reasons I stayed at Punahou so long. You made a positive influence in my life, and I hope I did in yours.

Of course, I have enjoyed my interactions with the adults here as well. With colleagues, there is much more continuity in the relationships, as we develop friendships that endure over the years. When I began teaching here in 1974, I was the young, cool dude in the English Department. I leave as the senior member, the repository of institutional memory. I have interacted with so many of you colleagues over the years, and like the students, you made working here a pleasure.

In the early years, it was exciting to work in Punahou’s drama program, notably with the immensely talented teacher, Charles “Kai” Brown, who wrote the scripts for the musicals, “Gee Wiz!” “The Wizard of Id,” “Slow White” and “The Nifty Fifties.” Then when I served as technical director for various Academy and Junior School shows, it was a tremendous amount of fun building sets with the stage crew. When directing the musical “Annie” in 1990, I recall the sense of euphoria that overcame students and adults working on the show. The golden memories live on today.

Earle (top row, far left) with students during his first year teaching at Punahou (1973 – 1974 school year).

Coming back from sabbatical in Greece in 1991, I transitioned from theatre to the world of athletics, working as an assistant to John Heidel in the intermediate cross-country program. When John retired, I headed up intermediate cross country and later, the boys’ track programs. Having a foot in two worlds – the world of theatre and the world of ILH athletic coaching – enriched my life.

As I envision it, we are a wave that traveled through Punahou in our particular era. There were waves before us, and there will be waves after us, but the institution itself will endure. Punahou is a dynamic entity, and the School we remember from our era here as students or even young teachers is not the same as it is today.

In my career, I have seen Punahou go from phonographs, typewriters, filmstrip projectors and chalk boards to student laptops and 88-inch Apple TVs in classrooms. Those are just some of the physical changes; much more is new in curriculum, student support and acceptance of diversity. Punahou continually reinvents itself for every era, and I am proud to have been part of that change. I am leaving the classroom, but not Punahou, for the School is now indelibly a part of me, just as it is a part of you.  

If you would like to reach Tom Earle, email him at tearle@punahou.edu

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