This Year’s Retiring Teachers



Richard Calleja

by Sam Klein and Mairin Quillen

It is difficult for current students in Spanish teacher Richard Calleja’s classes to accept that his enthusiasm in the classroom will not be present next year.

“He’s about to retire and yet he’s not grumpy and doesn’t seem tired of his job. He’s very positive,” junior Julia Lyberger said. “He’s really full of life and full of energy and he’s really open minded and cultured.”

Calleja is retiring after teaching at the high school for 29 years.

He said one of the most important aspects of teaching is being able to take feedback and improve.

“I think of teaching like a baseball season. You get ready for the season, you go through the season and some seasons you have a better batting average than usual, and then you realize what was wrong with your swing,” Calleja said. “I keep a journal, and I look at patterns and what I did wrong.”

Calleja extended this wisdom to his colleagues, Spanish teacher Pedro Mendez said.

“He just helped me to understand that you’re going to have years where you have more challenges than others and if you keep in mind, eventually you can work to make this better by changing something,” Mendez said. “You add to it or do something specific in your classroom, like spending more time planning.”

According to Calleja, the highlight of his career was receiving the Caverly Award for teaching in 2009.

Calleja previously worked in adult education, teaching English to Spanish-speaking people. According to him, this experience led him to understand the value of emphasizing communication when teaching.

“They had very basic needs about learning Spanish for work, and I learned a lot because they needed to learn English to survive,” Calleja said.

As a result of that experience, Calleja said his goal has been to show Spanish as an applicable and useful language by teaching his own personal philosophy.

His class includes all the traditional grammar and vocabulary worksheets, but often he also includes watching movies, reading short stories and discussions of current events. According to Calleja, his main mission has always been teaching Spanish through communication.

“I want to teach people who want to learn for the sake of learning,” Calleja said. “Next year, if anybody emails me and wants to learn Spanish, I’ll have a conversation with them.”

After retiring, there are a host of different pastimes that Calleja plans to pursue, such as reading books, traveling and volunteering.

“I’m going to miss his happiness,” Mendez said. “Even if the day is so dark outside, he’s always kind of looking at the bright side in life, and he kind of goes with the flow and injects that energy and that positive attitude in us.”


Abby Erdmann

by Edmund Geschickter and Kendall McGowan

When the high school’s School Within a School program first began in 1969, a group of five teachers formed a cohesive group, known as the “starting five.” This group saw SWS through its formative years, and remained with the program for upwards of 25 years.

Today, only one of those teachers remains, and she is retiring this year: SWS English teacher Abby Erdmann.

Erdmann began teaching at the high school in 1972 and moved to SWS in 1977. Because students in SWS vote to choose their own unique English classes, Erdmann says that she has been able to teach around 40 different courses, including Family and Literature, Creative Non-Fiction Writing and Identity, Race and Literature.

SWS Counselor and Coordinator Dan Bresman said that the legacy Erdmann will leave on the SWS community is huge, both academically and socially.

“She’s been a part of the SWS program for so long and had such influence in important ways that it’s just immeasurable what her influence is,” he said. “She’s so intertwined with the institution.”

Erdmann has also worked to address issues of race in the high school and in SWS itself. In addition to developing and teaching Identity, Race and Literature, which provides a space for students to talk honestly about race and study how race influences one’s identity, Erdmann led Race Committee and created and ran a program called Race Reels, a program which holds monthly movie nights and discussions about topics related to race.

Erdmann began Race Reels after she won the Olmstead Award for her teaching, for which she was nominated by a former student. The award came with $3,000 for Erdmann to put towards a school project, and Race Reels was born.

Junior Marian Osman, who has taken two of Erdmann’s semester-long classes including Identity, Race and Literature, said that Erdmann managed to make what is usually a difficult topic much easier to discuss.

“Our race class is majority white, so talking about that is very weird with people, and as a person of color the environment talking about it can feel really unsafe and uncomfortable,” Osman said. “But the class is just really comfortable.”

Social Studies teacher Malcolm Cawthorne, who has worked with Erdmann on Race Reels, said that he appreciates her bravery in initiating and encouraging difficult conversations.

“What I admire most about Abby is that she’s against solely talking to make ourselves feel better without any action,” Cawthorne said. “Race Reels is a good example of her taking an action, saying we’re going to provide a safe space for these things to happen.”

Erdmann said that she sees her teaching and her race work as being closely connected.

“I saw my teaching as intimately connected to social justice work,” she said.

Beyond admiration of her teaching styles and commitment to the SWS community and her race work, many of Erdmann’s colleagues and students spoke about her kind and caring personality. Bresman said that many of the features which made Erdmann a great friend and colleague also made her a talented teacher.

“The same kindness, generosity, empathy, dedication, commitment and I guess experience doing a lot of different types of socially responsible work infuses both who she is as a person and who she is as a teacher,” he said.

Erdmann said that she has had an invaluable experience at the high school and in SWS.

“I’ve had a great life here,” she said. “I’ve felt very useful, I’ve felt very joyful. And that’s a lot.”


Ellen Lewis

by Sarah Gladstone and Rosa Stern Pait

English teacher Ellen Lewis was first hired at the high school as a reading specialist in 1977 and has been teaching here ever since.

“Once I landed in Brookline there was never any reason to leave,” Lewis said.

English Curriculum Coordinator Mary Burchenal said that Lewis is an amazing teacher.

“I have never seen anyone who has put so much fresh energy into teaching for as long as she has,” Burchenal said. “She’s always learning and changing and it’s always a ton of fun.”

Seth Coven ‘15, who had Lewis as a teacher his freshman year, said he and Lewis developed a close relationship.

“She was someone I really trusted and who helped me get through these four years of high school,” Coven said.

He said he appreciated her humor and efforts to make class engaging and interesting.

“I’m really going to miss coming to class every day and knowing that there’s someone there who I could joke around with and laugh,” Coven said, “who could also be a mentor to me.”

Lewis said she became a teacher to help underprivileged children and teens. Before she came to Brookline, she worked with kids in Milwaukee who had been in trouble with the law and Armenian children in Watertown who were Lebanese civil war refugees.

Lewis said she loves the diversity in Brookline, both economic and ethnic, and how invested and conscientious her colleagues are.

“It’s a school that really works,” she said.

Since Lewis has mostly taught freshmen in her time at the high school, Burchenal said that she has had an enormous impact on the freshman program.

“In a way, she has been the gateway person for English, for Brookline High School, for many years, and that’s really going to be missed,” Burchenal said.

Besides teaching English, Lewis was a successful Warriors coach for 25 years. The teams she coached include girls tennis and boys and girls volleyball.

According to Burchenal, she first met Lewis as a fellow volleyball coach.

“I got a very good sense of how capable she was and how she really knew what she was doing, and she was also a ton of fun,” Burchenal said.

Her capacity to coach is clearly evidenced by her 12 championship titles, her Boston Globe Coach of the Year award in 1991, her induction into the Massachusetts Girls Volleyball coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006 and to the Brookline High School Hall of Fame in 2008.

After retiring, Lewis wants to stay active and engaged.

“I’m looking at some options of combining my interest in literacy and athletics,” Lewis said.

This summer, she plans to bicycle around Germany. She is considering visiting Vietnam during the winter.

Lewis said she will miss the high school and its students after teaching here for so many years.

“There’s the sadness of ‘Oh I won’t be here,’” she said. “My car knows how to get here by itself, but I think it’s time to move on.”
Allyson Toney

by Noa Dalzell and Sasha Saias

Health and fitness teacher Allyson Toney, who is retiring this year, has some cleaning to do.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Toney said, smiling. “I need to go through the desk and throw stuff away from 32 years ago.”

After 32 years of teaching classes ranging from Lifetime Activities, Basketball Specialization and freshman Health and Fitness, Toney has certainly left her mark on the school, according to fellow health and fitness teacher Keith Thomas.

“She makes everyone that comes to her class feel respected, comfortable and like they mean something to her,” Thomas said. “That’s her legacy, I think, how she makes students feel. All students; not just a few students.”

Health and fitness teacher Billy Graham, agreed with Thomas and recalled a particular instance that showcased Toney’s generous character.

“There was a student that was not going to graduate because they had been missing classes,” Graham said. “She stayed after school for a number of weeks to get the student up to speed on what they needed to do in order to help that kid graduate. He graduated in the end.”

Graham described another instance where Toney worked to help a student regardless of his insolence.

“There was a student that called her a name, swore at her as a freshman and was extremely mean to her,” Graham said. “By senior year he told her that she was the reason why they were graduating because she showed caring and loving even after the kid had been really mean and out of line.”

According to Graham, such instances are representative of Toney’s caring and loving nature and her selfless approach to caring for students.

According to Thomas, regardless of the amount of time Toney spends on each individual student, she cares for each student equally.

“It doesn’t matter your background, it doesn’t matter where you come from, once you’re in her life, you’re always there,” Thomas said. “She’ll look out for you, she’ll try to take care of you. She’s like the mother to a lot of students here.”

According to Toney, teaching primarily freshman has allowed her to get to know students on a deep level.

“Kids come in nervous, not knowing anyone, so if you’re nice to them and show that you care about them, those are the relationships that last a lifetime,” Toney said.

Teaching in Brookline, she said, has exposed her to a wide range of people.

“I liked the diversity and the population,” Toney said. “Getting to know people from all over the world. That was fun. I’m proud of developing relationships early on, and seeing that ten years later they still come back.

Guidance counselor Eric Schiff said Tony’s legacy is more than just her effect on individual students. He said that 20 years ago, Toney began to play a large role in dealing with the growing issue of harassment.

“They had an initiative in the state to make people aware of harassment,” Schiff said. “She was one of the original people in Brookline that got trained to deal with harassment in ways that were respectful to everyone that was involved… That was really groundbreaking at the time. She was someone people would go to with really sensitive issues.”

As Toney reflects on her career, there are several things she is most proud of, such as watching many of her more than 20 former student teachers get hired by the town.

“That makes me happy,” Toney said.

And now, after over three decades of welcoming new students and faculty members and cracking jokes to her students and athletes, Toney has made the choice to leave teaching for good.

“I want to be able to spend time during the day visiting the people that I care and love and still come in to coach basketball, because that’s a passion of mine,” Toney said.