Jack Gaddess, World Languages Department Chair

Whether he’s introducing students to a human rights activist from Argentina or sharing a story about his eventful weekend bike ride, Upper School Spanish Teacher Jack Gaddess never fails to find a way to bring a dose of excitement and fun to his Spanish classroom. An adventurous educator who has led Ellis girls on trips to Spain, Costa Rica, and Mexico, Mr. Gaddess proudly shares his love of the Spanish language and its culture with his students through interactive learning opportunities and experiences.  From joining the faculty number in the Upper School musical to blocking and serving in the annual winter volleyball game, Mr. Gaddess brings his unwavering enthusiasm for learning, and having fun while doing so, to Ellis every day.
Years at Ellis:22
Title:World Languagees Department Chair, Upper School Spanish Teacher
Education:B.A. Spanish and Latin American Studies, University of Pittsburgh; Masters in Spanish Language and Culture, La Universidad de Salamanca

How did you become a teacher and find your way to Ellis?
After I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, I moved to Venezuela to teach English and that’s when my Spanish took off. When I moved back to Pittsburgh, I enrolled in a one-year graduate school program at the University of Pittsburgh and taught Spanish I in the Cathedral of Learning. My advisor at the time let me know about a position at Ellis and I interviewed with Judy Calloman and Edie Hazlett. I didn’t know much at all about independent schools, let alone an all-girls school, but quickly found myself at home at Ellis.

In your classroom, you’re not just focusing on teaching how to speak Spanish, but how to understand Spanish and the culture. How do you do that?
Today, a lot of young people have a shockingly little amount of working knowledge about our neighbors to the South. I think it’s really important to not only teach them how to speak Spanish, but to expose them to the culture, the communities, and the connections to our culture. We mostly do that through technology in the classroom whether it’s Google chat, Skype, or email. Right now, my Spanish 4 students are pen pals with Latinos and Haitians from an ESL classroom in Philadelphia led by Ellis alumna Sarah APT ’06. We’ve had the chance to meet each other virtually and are learning from one another.

What do you believe are the advantages to Ellis’ all-girls environment?
In my classroom, there’s no holding back and I love that. My students go all out in everything that they do from oral to written presentations. There are no inhibitions here and you need that in a language classroom. At Ellis, girls really find their voice and in Spanish, I’m amazed at what they can do—their listening comprehension skills are second to none. In addition to the all-girls environment, the small class sizes at Ellis truly make a difference. There’s no hiding, here, every girl is addressed and known.

What is something you are excited about in your department at Ellis this year?
Well, we have two new faculty members in our department so it’s been really exciting to work with them and bounce new ideas off of each other. Also, Ashley Dotson and I are taking a group of Upper School students on a mini-course trip to Costa Rica. This will be my third time in Costa Rica with Ellis girls and I’m really looking forward to it. Students will pair up to stay with host families, take four hours of Spanish every day, and go on excursions in the afternoons for ten days. We’ll spend seven days in the valley of San Jose and three days on excursions outside of town.

Was there a teacher or professor in your life who made a profound impact on you?
My high school Spanish teacher Jim Kirchner. He had a great influence on me in a number of ways and we became friends later in life through his visits to Pittsburgh and mine back to my hometown. He made me realize that language learning should be fun and that's what I hope to do to a degree as well. He lives in Philadelphia now, but we are still in touch and I was in his wedding!

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Ellis?
Curiosity. Ellis girls are so naturally curious to learn and no one questions that. I really appreciate that curiosity, it may be one of the best qualities that the School fosters.

What do you love most about your job?
The cast of characters that I work with and all of the different components of my job. I love teaching Spanish, but I also really love the advisory component of my job. It keeps it fresh in a way.

How do you spend your free time?
Planning excursions for my family, riding my bike, and taking care of my chickens. I have five chickens and recently brought in a dozen eggs to make scrambled eggs for my Spanish 3 class! 

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Busy. Adventurous. Loyal.

You play the guitar, what’s your favorite song to play?
Anything by Tom Petty.

What is one of your best Ellis memories or moments?
As a Spanish teacher, I was particularly proud of my AP students a few years back when Peruvian congresswoman Carmen Omonte visited Ellis. She didn’t speak any English, so my students translated everything beautifully for her. It was really a remarkable moment. Also, every year at graduation when I see what Ellis can do for girls. Hearing graduates reflect on their experience and their relationships with each other and their teachers is really powerful. I always admire the sense of sisterhood that Ellis girls seem to leave with.

What is most important to you that girls learn at Ellis?
To take risks. Go out, see the world, meet people, explore. I want them to walk the walk, not just be experts from the outside. It’s so important to gain a different perspective. Don’t be afraid, live your life to the fullest.