Anyone privileged enough to learn from Joseph Walpole, could never forget him. Walking into his classroom was
always special — and whether he was discussing rhythm and meter, or the “art of styling sentences,” or love, loss and conflict in literature – the lessons came alive, the students sat engaged and enthralled.
“Like good writing, teaching is an art, and Joseph Walpole is the best I’ve ever known,” said Helena Castro, activities director at Miami Lakes Educational Center (MLEC). He taught more than grammar and mechanics, he taught his students about life. “His lessons came not only from books, but from his own hardships and triumphs, his time in the U.S. Navy and teaching abroad,” Castro said.
And yet, Joe’s storied teaching career began after a serendipitous encounter. He saw a billboard advertisement looking for college graduates to teach English in the Virgin Islands. He called the phone number and the rest is history.
Walpole has taught everywhere, from private schools to penitentiaries, around the world. And everywhere, his students remember him, send him holiday cards and emails, dropping by to visit.
“I am literally here because of Mr. Joe Walpole,” said Dr. Steve Gallon, who was once a student in Walpole’s ninth grade English class at Miami Northwestern Senior High School. “When he met me, I could have gone left, I could have gone right; Mr. Walpole helped guide me forward,” said Gallon, now Miami-Dade County Public Schools District I school board representative, at Walpole’s retirement party.
Dr. Gallon went on to major in English and became the youngest principal in MDCPS history and then a schools superintendent in New Jersey, before returning to his native Miami.
Throughout his career, Joe has inspired many students. His literary alumni now span the globe. There are millionaires and writers, business people, journalists and scientists. They remember his lessons, not just how to write a killer thesis statement, but they remember that he believed in them.
“Mr. Walpole believed in us, so much and was so proud of us when we accomplished our goals, he was so excited to hear where and when we were accepted to college,” said Jason Ledon, a recent graduate of MLEC heading to Carnegie Mellon in the fall. “When Mr. Walpole is proud of you, you become proud of yourself.”
Now, after 45 years of teaching, Mr. Walpole is saying goodbye to the classroom. He is retiring from Miami Lakes Educational Center, where he spent the last 16 years of his teaching career, the longest he’d stayed at any one school.
It’s not just the students that will miss him.
“Joe makes us better teachers and better people,” said Erica Evans-DeSimmone, the Cambridge Academy leader at MLEC.“He has been the heart of this academy, and we are going to miss him.”
Walpole has said that, throughout his career, he has sought “to do good in this life.” To help “engrain values: the old verities that will anchor students through life, truth-seeking, responsibility, courage, compassion, and respect for oneself and for others.”
If the outpouring of support, love and appreciation that he has received is any indication, it is safe to conclude that Joseph Walpole has, indeed, done good.
A version of this story was published in The Miami Laker on July 8, 2019: http://miamilaker.com/Education/ArtMID/570/ArticleID/6598/MLEC-says-goodbye-to-favorite-Joseph-Walpole-