Dan Willbach loves sharing historical knowledge

The Newtonite

[media-credit name=”Leah Budson” align=”alignright” width=”289″]"Part of my job is not just giving information, but getting people interested in the subject matter," history teacher Dan Willbach said.[/media-credit]

“Part of my job is not just giving information, but getting people interested in the subject matter,” history teacher Dan Willbach said

by David Kwartler
“Newton North is a truly special place,” said history teacher Dan Willbach, who has taught at this school for over ten years.
According to history department head Jonathan Bassett, “He is a thoughtful scholar of history, who cares deeply about students and about the discipline of history.”
Willbach was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Mount Vernon, New York. He attended Mount Vernon High School and graduated in 1961. He graduated from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1966.
“I always liked teaching,” said Willbach. He received his PhD in History from University of Michigan and taught college in Albany, New York for five years. He also taught part-time in a New York state prison.
He attended the School of Social Work at Simmons College in Boston and received his Master’s degree in Social Work. He worked as a psychotherapist for 20 years. “I did therapy with individuals, families and children,” said Willbach.
Throughout the 1990s, he worked at the Newton-Wellesley Hospital psychiatric unit and taught in Boston area colleges, such as Curry College, as a social worker. However, in the late 1990s, he decided to become solely a teacher.
“The mental health field was shrinking, so I was both pushed out and pulled towards teaching. I realized I could teach psychology, which brought it all together, so that was great for me,” said Willbach.
In 1999, Willbach began to teach at Wayland. He also taught at Mansfield, before finally coming to this school in 2001. Bassett hired him to teach history to juniors and psychology to seniors.
“He has been an especially valuable member of the department because of his ability to teach so many courses. He has taught psychology and history, has served on the Kennedy Prize Committee and has been involved in several schoolwide groups dedicated to improving the overall Newton North experience for students,” said Bassett.
According to Willbach, he sought to make students feel connected to history.
“I like to use imagination and believe it’s important. It’s about going past the facts,” said Willbach.
He explained that “once you have the facts you have to imagine what it was like in these time periods.”
By using imagination to set the scene, students connect with the curriculum and better understand what life was like during those time periods, according to Willbach.
He also worked to expand his students’ interest in the curriculum. “Part of my job is not just giving information but getting people interested in the subject matter. I am interested in the subjects, but everyone else might not be,” said Willbach.
Trying to make his classes interesting for students and “getting a good classroom rapport with the students” helps to increase interest in the discussion, activities and the subject matter itself, according to Willbach.
He said the most difficult part of his teaching career is the time spent grading work, especially the junior theses.
However, he describes “the interaction with students and the classroom environment” as one of his favorite things about the job.
History teacher Betsey Scharlack, who shares an office with Willbach, said, “He is always ready to help students. He spends a good deal of time conferring with them and helping to shape their thoughts and their writing, especially noticeable with the seemingly endless meetings for the junior thesis.”
Bassett said, “He is particularly tenacious with students for whom history does not come easily. He does not accept sub-standard work and pushes all students to achieve.
“He contributes insightfully to department meetings, usually expressing his opinions clearly and strongly, and with civility, humor and respect.”
He describes some of his best experiences at the school as those involving the Kennedy Prize Committee and Model United Nations, where he can contribute to the school outside of the classroom.
“This school is a very different teaching experience than other high schools,” said Willbach.
He said he believes the students have a passion and drive to learn that is not found at other schools.
According to Willbach, “Seeing students change and develop over time is very rewarding, and I love to watch my students at graduation,” he said.
He said he enjoys watching his students mature into young adults with promising futures ahead of them.
Although Willbach will miss his colleagues and students, he will look forward to being able to finally relax during retirement, he said.
“I have many different plans. I want to do some writing, learn to play the piano and travel.”
Scharlack said, “He is a good friend and will be missed for his kindness to all of us.”