Of mice and two men

Meghan Wysocki '22, Editor in Chief

Walk into Room 293 in second or fifth hour any day of the week, and you’ll find many things: a Medusa head, a portrait of an owl, Christmas lights, and not one, but two teachers.

For the past 16 years, it has been both Harry Campion and John Monaghan at the helm of South’s Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition (AP Lit) class. What began as routine visits to each other’s classrooms eventually morphed into a twice-a-day team-teaching gig for the two of them.

“We sat in on (former English teacher Peggy) Ptasznik’s class every day for a year before we took over,” Monaghan said. “The changing of the guard for AP Lit was taken pretty seriously. When we began teaching the class, we would stop by each other’s rooms, and that’s how we realized we enjoyed doing it together.”

In their partnership, Campion and Monaghan bring experiences in different backgrounds. Both are published authors, writing on topics ranging from science fiction to Midwestern travel. Monaghan wrote for magazines and continues to write as a special to the Detroit Free Press. In addition, both teach other English electives: Creative Writing and Mythology for Campion and Film Literature for Monaghan.

“We have a nicely adversarial relationship,” Campion said. “I don’t think there are any downsides to us teaching together. It’s a ton of fun.”

Hannah Brauer ’16, who participated in Poetry Workshop with Campion in addition to taking AP Lit, described the pair as “role models” because of their ability to help students develop their interests in many areas of English.

“In AP Lit, we always talked about the hero’s journey, and I’ve always seen them as the guides who take on that role of helping you reach your potential,” Brauer said. “They help you find yourself and open up about things you may have felt uncomfortable with before, whether it’s through writing, film or visual arts. They are really, really important to so many students’ self-development.”

Alumna and English teacher Elizabeth Lulis echoed Brauer, noting the range of classes she took under the two of them expanded her perspectives. In particular, it was Monaghan’s Film Literature class that led her to pursue a master’s in English with a concentration in film.

“I had never dissected films before I took that class, and I loved it so much I earned my master’s degree in it,” Lulis said. “I’ve been teaching with them for 22 years, and I still view them as my mentors. Truly, they are the reason I became a teacher.”

Alex Lefief ’22 said she believes it takes a certain dynamic to be successful at team-teaching, and Campion and Monaghan have a “great system where they understand each other’s roles.”

“I think AP Lit is universally known as the hardest English class at South, but I still enjoy every assignment I do,” Lefief said. “Kids will drop out because of the summer packet and some of the tests are insane. But I always look forward to every class because I know I’ll be greeted by two teachers who love what they do.”

Even after six years away from South, Brauer said Campion and Monaghan’s relationship stuck with her as an example of a deep, multifaceted friendship.

“The dynamic between them is so nice to see, especially for a high school kid,” Brauer said. “I remember Monaghan would come into Poetry Workshop sometimes and watch Campion do his thing. Seeing that type of support– it’s very special. And the witty banter between them is unmatched. They operate like they’re in some sort of sitcom– they’re the definition of an old married couple.”

Monaghan acknowledged that their partnership makes them prone to a) a stash of eclectic fan art and b) some particularly entertaining rumors– “Obviously, we’re married,” he said with a laugh. The best one came a few years ago from fellow English teacher Sandy McCue.

“A while back, Sandy spread the rumor that we lived communally,” Monaghan said. “She told kids we lived in a big compound somewhere. And people legitimately believed her. It was ridiculous.”

That sense of playfulness formed one of Brauer’s core memories in the class– not of reading a Greek drama or writing a piece of poetry, but participating in an annual event on South’s front lawn.

“One of the last days of class, we all went outside and played a giant game of kickball together,” Brauer said. “That class was the most difficult of all my classes at South, but at the end of everything, we went outside with a rubber ball and had a ton of fun. It was like we were at recess in elementary school, when in reality, we were days away from graduating high school.”

Monaghan said the partnership has survived through the years because both he and Campion team-teach simply to help each other.

“I don’t think you can be a teacher for very long if you don’t have a good support system,” Monaghan said. “We are so lucky in the English department to really get along, Harry and I especially. If it wasn’t for Harry, I wouldn’t be teaching right now. I really wouldn’t. I don’t have it in me.”