Once when he was teaching “Romeo and Juliet” to freshmen, he divided his class into two groups. He pit one against another in a war of Shakespearean insults, encouraging them to get into it with voice and gesture. Their enthusiasm grew long and loud enough to draw the ire of an administrator who barged into the room, yelled at Musko for the chaos, and asked to see him in his office at the end of the day.
What the students didn't know was that Musko had staged the event. He quietly calmed his class and had them read the first act of the book, which introduces the feuding Montagues and Capulets. “I asked them how many of them had ever been in a Shakespeare play,” Musko related. “Then I told them that they had all just participated in one. It was a great, fun way to teach Shakespeare. The material sounds old, crusty and dusty, but it's timeless.”
He's had students take their enthusiasm for a book they were reading and turn it into persuasive arguments to have the author - in this case Jeannette Walls - visit the school. The students wove diplomatic pleas into business letters, and Musko wrote a letter to Walls' agent, as well, explaining the project. “They're eager to hear [a reply],” Musko said, “even if it's ‘No.’”
He's had his students create clear castles out of transparencies after reading Walls' book, “Glass Castles.” They had to take quotes from the book and write them on the walls of the castles. It was incredibly popular, he said. “They had to work cooperatively. It brought the book alive. It was an important teaching tool,” he said.
It's the sort of teaching that earned Musko the academy's Teacher of the Year Award for 2011-2012.
Musko could have applied for the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Award, but decided against it. Past winners and runners-up have published and worked on life-consuming projects, he said. “That's not me. I didn't feel I was in the running for that. It meant more to me that this award came from the people that I work with on a daily basis and for the past 15 years,” Musko said.
What he does on a daily basis is teach. It's a job that comes with a great deal of responsibility, according to Musko. “I think we lose sight of that enormous power,” he said. “We are forming the next generation. It's an immense responsibility. We need to be diligent. We need to keep that in the forefront, and we need to be held accountable.”
Musko decided early in his college career that he could best serve the world by teaching. “I feel it's my calling,” he said. “I can't think of myself doing anything else.”
Woodstock Academy teachers have a certain amount of flexibility in their curriculum. While all freshmen may have to read one certain text, one English teacher might focus on characterization and another might highlight the different points of view in that text. “In English, our texts are the jumping-off point,” said Musko. “The text is what's common in our experiences.”
He finds his students are most challenged with poetry and writing. They have to think about organization and how to begin, how to incorporate source material and their own opinions into the piece. And poetry can confuse them. “In poetry there are only questions,” he said. “That's difficult for students. It's a genre they aren't exposed to. Song lyrics are poetic. I tell them to try to tap into those things.”
Faculty member Jamie Carpenter calls Musko a consummate professional. “I've never heard of a single student or faculty member ever saying anything negative about him, and that's practically unheard of,” she wrote. “I can't even think of a teaching weakness. He's really that good.”
The hardest part of his job is making the connection between the material he teaches and his students' lives. “I want to be able to answer a kid when he asks why we're reading this. It isn't always easy. Students don't always understand this at their age, nor would I expect them to. Sometimes it's about being a culturally aware human being. It doesn't get you a job or an award. It makes you a well-rounded human in the world.”