Just under Wilson Hall lies the cleanest battlefield Haverford has ever seen. We have seen Room 153 claim many prisoners of war to serve detention. Unyielding exams and tests prove that classes held in that room are a worthy adversary for any student. On the other hand, amid a rigorous project-based course load, students have seen much growth in their math and interpersonal skills. The frontier of Room 153 is commanded by Mr. Stephen Patrylak.
“Brilliant, prepared and caring,” is how Mr. Ator, Mr. Patrylak’s coconspirator and math colleague, describes him. One would think as one of the most experienced teachers at The Haverford School, Mr. Patrylak would straggle behind in the transition to Virtual Haverford.
“I might have a problem, but my day starts at 4:30 am,” Mr. Patrylak says. “If I wake up at 5 am, I consider that I have slept in. My mother never had to wake me up. I had to wake up early, or else I wouldn’t have enough time to shower.”
His mornings consist of showering, making breakfast, and doing household errands before he gears up to teach.
“I find that my screen time is about eight hours a day. If I am not in a class, I am in a meeting: either department, committee, advisory, or even a community session.”
Busy days are no stranger to Mr. Patrylak. From a student’s perspective, some would say he is the modern version of a superhero that lives a double life.
Growing up in North Philadelphia, Stephen Patrylak lived in a two-bed apartment with his three brothers and two parents. His family is Ukrainian and never missed a Sunday mass.
“I remember walking to school with my younger brother, and we would get picked on and bullied. It came to the point where we got tired of it and learned how to box,” Mr. P. says.
He spent most of his free time going to a gym near his house. He did not have to pay for a membership, yet he does not know if he even had to. Maybe the guy who owned the gym knew his family couldn’t afford it, or maybe it was just a place where guys could work towards the common goal of getting stronger.
“They sometimes had safe matches where we could fight guys our weight and skill level,” Mr. P. says.
Mr. P. loves soccer more, but boxing bestowed the necessary fighting skills required to defend himself from being picked on.
“I bet you those guys learned their lesson,” Mr. P says with a hint of modesty.
Still, Mr. P. describes himself as a pacifist. “I absolutely abhor violence,” he says. “I have never held a gun, went hunting, or shot a crossbow. There was one time I was a coach for our track team, and the referee who sits in the tall chair asked if anyone could shoot the starting pistol that has a blank. Someone volunteered me, and I instantly refused. I only resort to self-defense when it is an absolute necessity, and only then do I do enough to end the fight immediately.”
His ability to consider the bigger picture bleeds into our contemporary moment. Mr. Ator says, “Mr. Patrylak is a brilliant mathematician and teacher, but when we are talking about our classes, he addresses our work as a team and never puts himself above anyone else.”
Mr. Patrylak has some trade secrets when it comes to providing a fantastic education. After his online classes, he gets his materials ready around 3 p.m. Emails, links, and resources get shipped out to students for the coming days. He then spends another hour or preparing his lesson for the next day. Despite classes starting at 8:30 a.m., he is ready to go at 7:30 a.m., double-checking everything and making sure all of his technology works.
One of the most effective tools in Mr. P.’s arsenal is his email. Before Virtual Haverford, only on a lucky day, in a good week, were some students able to catch a glimpse of him organizing and replying to emails in his inbox. With his busy schedule and much spam in most email in-boxes, it is quite an accomplishment for Mr. Patrylak to be of the few with zero emails left in his email.
Mr. Ator says, “I have never met anyone who is more prepared or faster to respond than Mr. Patrylak. We joke that he already has his comments written for next year. I’ll send him an email in the morning asking if he would mind looking over a test I’m planning to give, and ten to fifteen minutes later, he’ll drop by and give me his feedback. Throughout this year teaching geometry, he will send me quizzes and tests for one or two chapters ahead of what we’re working on, but he’s also not precious about this work. If I send back suggestions or comments on a problem that he wrote, he’ll update it right away. I don’t think the man knows how to procrastinate.”
Behind every great man is a greater will. His tenacity of execution stems from his education.
“I did not stop going to school until I was forty-three,” Mr. P. says. “I love school, and I love academics. That’s why I teach.” Before his reign at Haverford, Mr. Patrylak obtained his B.A. and M.S. at Temple University and his M.A. from LaSalle University. He was an actuary for 28 years, and a part of his job was teaching younger actuarial candidates what it takes to pass the actuarial exam. He ran and sold his business after becoming quite financially successful.
“Traveling through Europe with my wife and kids was one of the most memorable times in my life,” Mr. Patrylak says.
“I’m not sure we will ever get to back to normal,” Mr. P. says. “I think for a while, and even in the fall, some form of virtual learning will be necessary.”
Until then, Mr. P. is finding his own “normal” in the comfort of his home. His days end around 11 p.m., but during the day he engages in virtual chess games with his son and binge-reads mystery novels like Sherlock Holmes. Every night he sits at his six-chaired, oak colored dining table where he eats mostly Ukrainian meals.
“There was a time when I thought a meal was not complete without soup, but now I am more forgiving,” Mr. P. says. “I am just fortunate for my wife and for everything she does.”