Zac Broken Rope builds meaningful connections with his students


Contributed by Zac Broken Rope

English teacher Zac Broken Rope

English teacher Zac Broken Rope grew up in a rural Nebraska town that had a smaller population than the student body of Brookline Public Schools. The high school he attended placed little value on post- secondary education and many people in the town never enrolled in school at all.

Broken Rope said Brookline is the kind of place he always hoped he would end up in. He said that being in high school is not easy, but he utilizes his own life experiences and unique perspective on literature to build meaningful connections with his students and help them get where they want to be.

According to Broken Rope, he was the first openly gay student at his high school. He said that coming out was not well-received by his conservative, religious community and he grappled with backlash from school, church, friends and family.

“It was a time of me learning what it means to fight for what you believe is right and being willing to put yourself on the line for your beliefs,” Broken Rope said. “I knew that I was going to be okay. I knew that I was right. But I had to deal with being surrounded by all these people who didn’t necessarily believe that.”

According to Broken Rope, he experienced a lot of self-growth in high school. Despite the difficult rejection he faced from his community, he said that he received validation and support from some of his teachers.

“There were two or three teachers who saw me for who I was, validated my existence and told me that I had a right to live and be happy,” Broken Rope said.

Broken Rope said that thanks to the positive impact his high school teachers had made on his life, he wanted to become a teacher himself in order to make a similarly meaningful impact.

“I can show up and care about my students every day and try and repay the kindness and validation that was given to me when I needed it more than anything,” he said.

Before teaching in Brookline, Broken Rope taught at Reading Memorial High School in Reading, Mass., alongside his friend and colleague Danielle Theissen. After Broken Rope made the switch to BHS, he encouraged Theissen to do the same. Theissen said she has the unique perspective of having seen Broken Rope’s impact on two separate school communities.

“Zac is someone who truly understands the need for student voice in a classroom. If students aren’t engaged, don’t feel heard or don’t feel like they are a part of the process, they’re not going to learn nearly as much. Zac understands that. Even before he knew Brookline, that was how he taught anyway,” Theissen said.

Broken Rope said that his style of teaching and connecting to his students fits well at the high school because of its many niches and programs.

“Brookline has created a place where kids have the ability to try different things and explore different facets of their personality,” Broken Rope said. “A lot of schools treat students as homogenous creatures where you all belong in one pocket. I love that Brookline gives you the ability to be a little weird if you want to be weird.”

Senior Tamar Paserman takes Broken Rope’s class Fiction and Film, which she said is very engaging.

“Mr. Broken Rope understands our generation. I think a lot of times in a Fiction and Film class, a teacher might just go straight to the films that are the classics, that we should watch to understand how movies work because these are the ‘good’ ones. But he’s a lot more open to showing us newer movies,” Paserman said.

Senior Owen Sloane, another one of Broken Rope’s students, said that Broken Rope’s class has been one of the few classes that retains aspects of what school felt like before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mr. Broken Rope has conversations about anything. Maybe it’s related to the class, maybe it’s just about random movie stuff. He tries to call on people and get them engaged and talking,” Sloane said.

Broken Rope’s students value his dedication to making classes interactive and interesting.

“Mr. Broken Rope is very open to our feedback, which I think is partially the SWS part of him,” Paserman said. “He really wants to know our opinions on everything we do: what our opinions are on a movie and if we want to keep on doing this type of thing. That’s really cool because usually teachers don’t ask us about what we want the plan for the class to be.”

Although Broken Rope believes Brookline gives students the opportunity to be their true selves, he acknowledges that high school is still a hard experience, no matter what. He said that being an English teacher gives him a more useful platform to impact his students.

“Life is difficult at times. We have these profound moments of joy but also these profound moments of sadness. No matter what the experience is, you have to learn how to process that. Literature is a way for us to understand the complex, difficult parts of the world and make us feel less alone in the universe,” Broken Rope said.

He is able to utilize the subject matter in his SWS class, Coming of Age, to help students analyze their own high school experience.

“We’re looking at coming of age narratives across culture, race, gender and religion and we talk about what it means to grow up,” Broken Rope said. “Why is this four year period such a transformative one, where you have either this brilliant, amazing time or the worst? How does that impact us? How do we move on if it’s not great?”

According to Broken Rope, asking such difficult questions has opened the door for him to not only teach his students, but to help him learn from and connect with his students as well.

“So much of education is about grades or coloring inside the lines. The opportunity to break out of those barriers at BHS has been really formative and renewed my sense of passion for this career,” Broken Rope said. “I love teaching, but I also want to learn from teaching. I love being challenged by my students, when they argue with you about things. Sometimes they’re wrong. But the conversation is what’s important.”