For the past few Halloweens at Weston High School, one anonymous staff member has dressed up as none other than English teacher Sue Hand, who is retiring after 43 years at WHS. When asked about this impersonator, Hand replied, with the utmost confidence, "No one can wear the braid as well as I can. [The impersonator] confirmed that for me." Of course, she is referring to the infamous braid that always falls across her left shoulder, an entity that has become something of a WHS phenomenon over the years.
"It is just a part of me," says Hand. "It is like a wart on your nose: Everyone else notices it, but after a while you stop seeing it." All cynical "Handsian" humor aside, the truth is, as was so aptly stated by senior Ali Kolbert, "She is so much more than 'that woman with the braid.' "
Hand began working at Weston High School in 1969 a year after its creation, and has only taken one year off her entire career, in 1977, when her son was born. To say the least, things were different back then. According to Hand, "Teachers were left on their own. ... 'Here's the book room' they would say, and then you closed the door to your classroom, and you did what you did." With the task of legitimizing such a new school, teachers were essentially left on their own in many respects to create their departments' curriculums from scratch. In fact, Hand had to design the school's whole senior curriculum, which at that time contained French and Russian literature.
Students often use the word "legend" to describe Hand. When asked who she would like to see become the next Weston High School legend, Hand inquired dryly, "Who was the next Da Vinci?" She chuckled and then returned with her "serious" answer. "That's not the way it works. There's a flow. I'm swimming along with everyone else, and when I get out, the flow goes on."
"Mrs. Hand was able to take a class that typically isn't my favorite, and make it one of the best classes I have ever taken," says junior Sami Briggs. "She made every class lively and challenged everyone's intelligence.
Sophomore Emily Weyrauch agrees, saying, "Mrs. Hand managed to teach us more than I learned in any other class that yearit was very evident that my writing had improved tenfold after that year."
Junior Carlye Rosen noted Hand's ability to "challenge us to think deeper about whatever we were reading at the time" while "entertain[ing] us along the way with her energy."
Junior Nikki Goldberg said, "It makes my day every time she says 'Hi' to me in the hallway."
Rather than gloat about the impact she has had on her students, she chooses to look inward. "[I can be] a cynical, negative person who might remember the kids 'it didn't work with.' " Even in the face of such admiration from her students, Hand, while appreciative, remains introspective and even critical of herself. "I want to open my eyes more to that type of positive, because it is so important."
For Hand, leaving is like "losing a part of my life." As of now, she has no immediate plans for her retirement. Instead, she thinks it would be "best to see what happens." One thing that Hand can be sure of is that for the rest of her life, every night before the start of a new school year, she will have the "back to school dream" that she has had since 1968, in which she is on one end of a "long, narrow, dark classroom" and has no idea what is on the other end.
Matthew Silverman is a junior at Weston High School. He is editor-in-chief of the school's newspaper.
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