TOLEDO, Ohio — This year has been a challenging one for a lot of people, especially for Waite High School history teacher Joe Boyle.
Boyle headed to work as Wednesday Addams from the Addams family.
It's just one of the many characters in his lineup for class lessons.
If you ask him what his own children think about it, he'll tell you: “My children hate this. They absolutely despise my characters, especially the angry mom character.”
Boyle has been teaching for years in Toledo Public Schools, but COVID-19 forced him to re-evaluate how he teaches his classes. To lighten the mood and keep students engaged, he took on acting to make his lessons a little more interesting.
“I created the character of Dr. Wednesday Quincy Addams, who was related to the Addams." Along with being president, she's a historian who has an obsession with death—right in line with the actual characters.
While you might think he actually went to his physical school building in character, he didn't. He went to his own stage with a whole set up in his garage. It's complete with a green screen, lights and a laptop. Having a blast, Boyle pulled up old high school drama class memories to help him get in character.
But his day was just getting started because Boyle has been taking his history show on the road. Driving miles on the weekends, Boyle searches for history around Toledo to share. Recently, he drove from Bowling Green to Perrysburg. He landed at the Fort Meigs State Historic Site to help students understand how the War of 1812 helped the U.S. emerge as a global power.
“I organize all those topics, and then try to think of what is there in town that either corresponds directly with this topic or what is there I can make a character that would be kind of funny to go along with this topic.”
Using his phone, he searched for just the right backdrop to use for his lesson and then set up the perfect shot while acknowledging, “I am definitely not one-take-Joe on these.” He attached his phone and went over his lines. Taking a pause to remember what he needed to say, he decided to change his background before hitting record. Capturing what he needed after a few takes, Joe wrapped it up and headed back home to record more lessons before putting it all together for his students.
While some might think it’s a little over the top, students like Seth Tristan, 17, doesn’t. He says it makes him feel like he’s back in the classroom with the same funny teacher he’s used to having, and he said Mr. Boyle “makes it easier to learn it and comprehend everything.”
Back at home in the studio under the lights, Boyle says doing all of this is really about coping professionally and personally. That's because nine years ago, Boyle was diagnosed with stage four renal cancer—something many people don’t survive. It spread to his lungs and then the radiation treatment damaged his respiratory system. Add COVID-19 to that, now Joe said its been a recipe for anxiety.
“The thing about this year scares me to death. A lot of what I'm doing, I mean, honestly is survival for me because it feels like something I have control over.”
While Boyle worries a lot about his health, his family and the impacts of COVID-19 on his students, he said going the extra mile to make his history lessons come alive has made him a better teacher and made his job of building relationships with his students easier. Fighting back tears, he also said it’s given him a way to leave a legacy behind for his family and his students.
“Whatever I've done here, hopefully there's something that lives on from that.”