Camelot Teacher Profile: Daniel Moorhead
English teacher Daniel Moorhead has been with Camelot’s Excel Academy South since its move to the Friends Hospital campus in Northeast Philadelphia. He was originally placed here through Teach for America, after getting his Masters in Divinity from Princeton University. Mr. Moorhead wanted to teach somewhere where he could make a difference, and he found the perfect place.
Not only does he teach several English classes, he also runs the SAT Prep class, coordinates Senior Projects, and works on Professional Development projects for the staff. Still, he always puts his students first, helping them think about the big ideas in literature, and how this will help them in the future.
What do you think about teaching here versus at a mainstream high school?
“I like our kids a lot. They’ve all got such different experiences, and different places they’re coming from, and such different takes on life. I love having the freedom to teach what I think I need to teach, following the standards, but I can choose what I think will make the most impact. I teach a lot of the classic literature anyway. I teach Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Albert Camus, and Sophocles. The school district says you have to do Beowulf in three days. Well, my kids need two weeks with that. They need to understand it. I can take two weeks, and that is fine. I love that I can teach how I think it needs to happen.”
What books do you think the students respond to most?
“Different students respond to different books. A lot of my guys like Beowulf, because they can get into the action. A lot of them really get into Oedipus. Partially because it is a crazy setup; the guy killed his dad and married his mom. Then they get into the tragedy of it, how fate has taken him places where he does not want to go.
When I have taught The Stranger, a lot of the kids really get into existentialism. They get into that idea of life having meaning versus life having no meaning. They like it when they can address ideas, and thoughts, and see that literature can mean something.
I think those are three books that I have taught that they have really enjoyed. It has always been a success even if it is really hard to get into. “
Are there any books that they have not liked?
“The Crucible. It just goes so slowly. I tried teaching Slaughterhouse Five one year and that did not work as well as I thought.
With The Great Gatsby, that was slow going. I was looking down the barrel of another failure. I brought in different articles and different discussions about the ideas. They got into the second half of the book, which was really gratifying – just giving them a chance to think about the issues, and then they could dive in.”
Why do think it is important that these students take your class? What are the big take-aways?
“One of the biggest things, along with the reading and writing that should be coming with every English class, is that it is valuable for them to read the classics. There is something to be said for reading more modern, higher-interest literature, but there is something to be said for the classics in terms of cultural capital.
I was explaining this to one of my students the other day. If you are sitting in an interview for a job one day, and your interviewer says, ‘What did you read in high school?’ You can say that you read Beowulf. You can have that conversation with people from Bucks County.”
What do you think that your students looking to achieve?
“A lot of them are looking into post-secondary education. More so now than when we first started the school (nine years ago), which is a lot of fun. I try to talk about it as much as possible, keep it in their ears, and gearing questions towards looking at college, looking at jobs.”
Tell us about the senior projects.
“Here, senior projects are a research paper and a presentation. They get to research a topic of their choosing. They have to get approval from their advisor. They have to research it, write a paper, do citations, make a PowerPoint, and present the PowerPoint to a panel.”
What’s the best part of working at Camelot?
“I know that all the teachers are working incredibly hard for the same goal, which is to help our students. I know that if I want to do something – teach something, or do an activity, or use some materials, to help the students, I will get the backing for it.”