MORRISTOWN, NJ - One important figure in a young man or woman’s life is a teacher. And in Morristown, one such educator has retired from the classrooms, leaving behind a big legacy. His name is Bruce Chamberlain, or "Mr. C." to his students.
During the 2019-20 school year, Chamberlain had transferred from Frelinghuysen Middle school to Morristown High School with the intention of teaching three or four more years. However, back in April, when the coronavirus lockdown was still fresh, the decision was changed to retire at the end of the school year.
“In February, our family gained two more grandchildren,” said Chamberlain. “COVID made the decision a painful yet easy one. Jeannie and I wanted to spend more time with the family, so teaching through the pandemic was not going to be a good match.”
Hailing from Woodland Park, Chamberlain was a second career teacher, starting with Hewlett Packard in the late 1970s as a computer systems engineer. This was before there were IBM PCs or Apple MacIntosh, when Chamberlain earned a degree in mathematics from Montclair State University.
“My peer math majors were all getting teaching certifications,” said Chamberlain. “I would kid around with them, ‘Why would you ever want to teach?’ I also met my wife Jeannie there. She retired the year before me after teaching language arts in Kinnelon for 38 years!”
Recently back in late June, a Zoom tribute night was put together, organized by Board of Education member Melissa Spiotta, followed by a drive-by farewell parade at Morristown High School.
Chamberlain has described himself to be “incredibly fortunate” as Morristown educator. In 2004, he was hired as a teacher at Frelinghuysen Middle School. Eventually, he was approached to teach a combination of accelerated math classes and work in the Quest Gifted and Talented program. Though feeling like a fish out of water, with patience and determination, he ran a number of projects from entrepreneurial projects (much like Shark Tank), interior design, forensic debate, Model UN and mock trials for students, through the sixth through eighth grade.
“As I look back over my 16 years in Morristown, I marvel at the tireless efforts of my colleagues,” said Chamberlain. “The travails of this past spring for families and students have created a new nationwide appreciation of educators. That said, I just don’t think people know how dedicated school employees are, teachers, custodians, bus drivers, support staff, administrators, nurses. I wish I could list every individual.”
One event that comes to mind for Chamberlain that exemplifies all that teachers do was the annual Spring Musical at Frelinghuysen. "Every year, Tara Montague, Amy Bozza, and Jean-Marie Molinaro would share their talents and manage from 150-200 students participating in the song and dance routines. They endured long days and weekends, but they knew that the joy of accomplishment and camaraderie for the students was worth all the effort and anguish. They were supported by many other colleagues and parents in the arts and music. This amazing annual event was and is truly representative of the endless dedication of what many teachers and coaches do on a daily basis."
Now retired, Chamberlain reflects on many other school memories, with too many colleagues to thank, fellow educators, school staff and administrators such as Ethel Minchello, Mark Manning, Carlene Henke, Cheryl Stetz, Karen London, and community members such as Ken Karlson, Bill Carlucci, Cookie Pocchia, Mary Divino, Andy Hipolit, Hart Coven, Professors Pat McGuinn and Carlos Yordan at Drew University. Chamberlain also thanks former mayor Jay Delaney and local attorneys, such as Francesca Fahmy, Mike Rubin, Helen Tuttle, Christopher Schellhorn, James Porfido and Bridget Beyer who helped contribute to the mock trial program at Frelinghuysen, which eventually led to the formation of a team at the Morristown High.
“It pains me to know I’m leaving many names out and I couldn't even begin to list all of the parents that have helped over the years with all sorts of support, including judging our forensic debate tournaments,” said Chamberlain. “I always told the kids that the only thing tougher that performing competitive debate is judging competitive debate! It really does take a village!”
And within this village of the Morris School District, there are many that can say that the impact Chamberlain has had on students and the school communities has been immense. Mark Manning, principal of Morristown High School, has known Chamberlain for the past nine years and could say he will be sorely missed.
“Bruce represents the perfect combination of the intellectual academic and the warm and caring educator,” said Principal Manning. “Bruce approached all of his responsibilities with a high degree of professionalism and excitement. And that excitement was contagious to his students! I am pleased to say that hundreds of Morris School District students will have incredibly fond memories of their time with Bruce in the classroom, working on engaging and real-life projects in his Quest classes and their time in the courtrooms in Mock Trial competitions. We wish Bruce and his family all the best in retirement and we want him to know that he will be missed.”
For a lot of retired people, the reality of being retired feels surreal, after a lifetime of work. Yet, Chamberlain plans to make the next chapter in his life count, while welcoming new faces into his life.
“It’s an odd feeling to consider myself as ‘retired,’” said Chamberlain. “Over the years, I've become attached to Morristown. I always told the kids that it's a very special place. I'm currently doing a little ‘harvesting’ at the Urban Farm and hope to volunteer with Morris Habitat. Painting ceilings and walls is my specialty, and perhaps doing some tutoring through the MEF tutoring program. On the family side, my wife Jeannie and I are looking forward to providing a lot of childcare for our grandchildren. We have three, one two-year-old grandson, and in February, we welcomed two little ones, a girl and a boy, just three days apart.”
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