An informal interview landed Dan Lafferty a position at the high school he wouldn’t trade the world for
By KRYSTAL NURSE
Editor’s note: This story is part one of four profiling the employees in the Clearview Regional School District who were given the Teacher or Educational Specialist of the Year distinctions.
Clearview Regional High School anatomy teacher Dan Lafferty has been in the district since the 1999–2000 school year, and he’s been able to make a name for himself with the creation of the anatomy courses and, now, Teacher of the Year.
In December, he was awarded the distinction during classroom instruction. He said it caught him off-guard.
“I was surprised,” said Lafferty. “Second period you don’t expect to all of a sudden see the superintendent, the principal, your supervisor, the assistant curriculum — a lot of important people in my classroom — and I’m wondering ‘what’s going on here,’ and they had balloons and a Christmas tree and I was like ‘this is really happening!’”
Teaching wasn’t his first career choice. He originally studied pre-med and biology at St. Joe’s University to become a doctor, but soon fell in love with mentoring and tutoring students in his junior and senior years. After job shadowing, he realized he had a stronger love for teaching science than to research it.
His co-op teacher at Deptford High School, Van Lynch, assigned him tasks, such as attending faculty and board of education meetings and learning how to create a budget. In March of 1999, Lynch advised Lafferty to “shoot down Breakneck Road and you’ll see a little school, go in there, say your name and what you’re interested in.”
Lafferty was asked by the former administration at the high school to return and talk with the superintendent, who then gave him a job teaching biology in the 1999–2000 school year.
In the 20 years that he’s been in the district, he built up a laundry list of titles at the high school, but one of the things he has loved since was the creation of the anatomy program, of which he currently teaches two levels.
“I started the program with 25 kids approximately 15 years ago with one class,” said Lafferty. “Now there’s about 220 kids total in the program. There’s three different teachers teaching it now as well from just one class. I think there’s currently 10 to 11 different classes worth of anatomy.”
He added, in his time of teaching the course, he was able to find out what methods work, what don’t, which material sticks better with the students and learned dissections are one of his favorite lessons. Namely, the six-week long cat dissection.
“It gives them the opportunity to get hands-on feeling for what they are and what they’ve been studying rather than reading the textbook,” he said. “Like actually seeing those muscles and getting their hands in them.”
Dissections, for him, allow him to teach students concrete aspects that wouldn’t have been as easy to understand through a textbook.
“No matter what type of technology exists, it can’t replace those things, and I think those are my favorite moments where kids are like ‘whoa, that’s a sheep heart, that’s a cow eye, that’s a kidney.’”
His favorite part of the job overall, he said, was meeting his now-wife, Kristine, who taught English and is now a professor at Rowan University.
Throughout the day, he said he tries to get students to feel comfortable with the lessons and does his best to relate to them “because of the subject matter, that [they’re] going to have discussions that will definitely be personal and to feel very comfortable in talking about things.”
“It’s anatomy,” he said. “Everything relates to the kids. That’s where having taught for 20 years, you have a lot of stories — through my own family, I’ve got three kids at home, so I can relate to stories about them or tell them something that happened in another class.”
He also helps students understand, with anatomy being an elective course, to take advantage of the other electives at Clearview and know grades are important, but getting the concept of the courses matters more.
Having taught the subject for 15 years, Lafferty recalled an instance where a lab class was working on deflated pig lungs and asked him what would happen if they popped. He piqued their brains and inflated the lungs. They popped, but he said it allowed them to see stuff happen and “make happy mistakes.”
After seeing around 150 kids a year, learning new methods from Kyle Rosa and Allyson Specian, who also teach anatomy, and meeting his wife, Lafferty said his experience has been “phenomenal” and he feels fortunate to be able to do what he does.
“If I can do another 20 years, this is where I’ll be,” said Lafferty. “I love the school, I love the teachers I work with. I love the students and the fact that I get to do what I want in teaching the elective, and building it up from scratch, is something awesome. I can see myself doing this for another 15 or 20 years.”