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November 7, 2019

Meet American Studies Teacher Tim Plaehn

Tim Plaehn: American Studies Teacher, Head of the Honor Council, Volleyball Coach

Tim Plaehn studied Teaching and Curriculum at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, which is a strong backing for one half of the American Studies Double Threat — the husband and wife teaching team of Tim and Helen Plaehn. Tim is a powerhouse of the English language, authoring his own stories when he isn’t busy molding the next generation of inspired writers. 

Teaching is rewarding for Tim for a variety of reasons. “What’s so funny is that Helen and I will constantly ask, ‘Who’s your favorite student right now?’” he admitted. “And we ask that of each other because it’s constantly changing. Every day, we’re trying to figure out who needs what, how to get them to their next level.” No matter how fascinating the current unit, it’s always the students who truly draw him to the classroom environment. “Yeah, I like content, and I like thinking about the writers we study, but it’s really seeing the students’ engagement with it, and seeing the students’ growth that gets me jazzed up.”

However, it’s not perpetually sunshine and rainbows in the Plaehn classroom. “Yesterday was rough,” Tim revealed with a chuckle. “I returned some writing, and I had to do the talk– ‘You know how everything’s been fun and funny in class? Today’s the day where it’s going to be dark.’” His sense of humor just plays off the wisdom he’s accumulated from teaching humanities for over 20 years; Plaehn followed his witty take by saying, “Part of the process as we’re together throughout the year is you’re going to have these ups and downs, where I have to challenge them at certain times to get them to grow.”

When asked how his teaching career impacts his writing, Plaehn explained, “I think it goes both ways. I think being a writer makes you a better teacher, and teacher of writing, and then being a teacher of writing helps me look more closely at what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to convey; so it’s made me more critical of my own writing because part of my job is to be critical of students’ writing — day after day, year after year, student after student.” Plaehn feels like that balance tips in his favor. “When you’ve read as much writing as I have, with the aim of giving feedback and helping to improve the writer’s clarity, you can’t help but reflect it upon yourself.”

Some things may always stay the same, like the looming dread of the senior demo, but this year has brought its fair share of transitions to the Plaehn classroom. “I’m teaching History for the first time this year,” Tim shared. “Every night there is a ‘wow’ moment as I plan what the class is going to be the next day,” said Plaehn. The teacher becomes the pupil: “I’m like, ‘John Rolfe said that?!’ I’m having constant epiphanies as I learn the material.”

Plaehn holds a deep appreciation for the wide range of diversity present among Asheville School students. “That history class has wowed me a few times because we have such an international perspective,” he said. “It’s a class of 13; seven of them were born outside of the United States.” He understands that his perception of American history differs wildly from his international students; “Here I am, coming at it from my white, American perspective, and…I have other students — who are international — talking about how they perceive America and those historical themes.”