Fifth grade English icon Mr. Lignore returns to his teaching roots

Mr. Joseph Lignore at his desk in his Lower School classroom – Christopher Schwarting ’24

I am a Fifth Grade student at The Haverford School. I am respectful and committed to everyone I meet and everything I do. For those who have navigated the Lower School, this pledge may hold a sentimental weight. 

      Situated in the right-end classroom of the fifth-grade pod, one will find a classroom bustling in support of the student who has worked on a newly-sung rap to memorize his prepositions. Next, you might find students collaborating on an ingenious public rendition of the theme from Gilligan’s Island. Or, maybe, the room will be filled by the wide-eyes of awe, following a masterful storyteller bringing to life the physical struggles and verbal strain of surviving Fever 1793.

     Mr. Lignore’s mission to inspire a passion for English and a greater respect for community has remained unwavering. For many students, the joy one feels when entering this English class is like no other, and this sentiment is similarly shared by its teacher, Mr. Lignore, who will bid farewell to the Haverford community.

     Mr. Lignore will return to the school where he first taught before coming to Haverford.

     “I started teaching in Saint Andrew School in Drexel Hill. It literally changed my life there. I came [to Haverford] after thirteen years and worked here, taught here, for thirteen years. It changed my life even further,” Mr. Lignore said. “Now I would like to go back to Saint Andrew—so it’ll be like bookends.”

     For an individual so passionate about literature and writing, Mr. Lignore’s path to teaching students in the classroom was not direct.

     “I went to school to be a teacher,” Mr. Lignore said. “After college, I first started out in pre-med. I was putting myself through school and couldn’t work as much as I needed to work and study as much as I needed to study, so my advisor said I had to make a decision, I’m either one or the other, so I changed majors.  I loved it for the rest of my four years.”

     After graduating as a teacher, there was a problem. It was 1976, and America was facing one of the largest birth-rate drops in its recent history. Fewer babies, in turn, meant fewer students attending elementary and secondary schools. With available teaching jobs dwindling, Mr. Lignore found himself charting a different career path: management.

     Mr. Lignore said, “I got a job at Kmart, where I had worked all through high school and college, part time. They gave me credit for all my part-time years and it took me two to two-and-a-half years, [at which point] I finally had my own store. I just went around the East Coast; Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and back to Philly.”

Mr. Lignore poses next to his “Liggy,” a photo taken for a previous Index article– Vincent Scauzzo ’20

     While cementing himself in a stable managing position, Mr. Lignore still thought of teaching.

     “Two things that I always had a problem with [at Kmart] was people didn’t know how to speak, and then they didn’t know how to write. And it would make me crazy—especially the writing part. I told my wife that if I ever get in the position to teach kids how to write, that’s what I would do. I would teach them how to write and then how to speak,” Mr. Lignore said.

     And that is exactly what Mr. Lignore chose to do. When the opportunity presented itself, he knew it was a move worth making: teaching young students the values and intricacies of the English language.

     “I had an opportunity to teach, so I took it,” Mr. Lignore said. “It made me so happy. I discovered things about myself that I had forgotten about. What I loved to do was write. It was just a great thing and off I went.”

     From that point onward, Mr. Lignore committed himself to his students. His thirteen years at Haverford alone have left him with fond memories.

     “The kids are often lost in September, and watching them get it—just watching them explode on the scene. They just blossom, and their success is rewarding,” Mr. Lignore said. “It is just so hard to push through the soil and then they finally get it. They get a taste of sunlight and they just open right up. They bloom and they are off to the races writing.”

“The relationships are what I will always remember. I like looking in The Index, seeing an article by someone I had before, and dropping them a note that I enjoyed the article.”

Mr. Joseph Lignore

     Above all, Mr. Lignore asserts that the relationships he has nurtured are the highlight of his time at Haverford.

     “The relationships are what I will always remember,” Mr. Lignore said. “The boys that I correspond with, boys in middle school and upper school, the boys I keep in touch with. I like looking in The Index, seeing an article by someone I had before, and dropping them a note that I enjoyed the article.”

     And for students, it can be those check-ins that make the difference. 

     As Mr. Lignore looked to the future, he reflected on his time at Haverford.

     “I’ll certainly miss this place, that’s for sure. I’ll miss the kids the most, and the faculty. The teachers are inspiring, [and] the kids are inspiring,” Mr. Lignore said. “This is the crux of why I’m teaching: Be self aware, be humble and do for others.”

     And for many who have passed through fifth-grade English, Mr. Lignore has remained an inspiration for them, too. Each day, a bright smile would await a classroom that would teach so much, yet appear so playful and fun. From the carpet readings to the occasional lemon drop, or even a traditional farewell of “Peace, love, and Bobby Sherman,” Mr. Lignore has left an imprint on the community he has contributed to and the students who have sat in his room.

     “Mr. Lignore was the first teacher who really taught me how to write a strong essay,” Third Former Russell Yoh said. “That has helped me throughout the rest of my Haverford career thus far.”

“I have become such a better person, a better man, a better teacher, better friend all from here [the school]. It has been a wonderful ride.”

Mr. Joseph Lignore

     And while Mr. Lignore is leaving for the Saint Andrew School, there is still much he wants to accomplish. He plans to write a book about his hometown of Yeadon, keep up on his fishing, continue model and diorama building, and take some time to spend with his family. 

     Mr. Lignore said, “I am totally grateful for everything.  I have become such a better person, a better man, a better teacher, better friend all from here. It has been a wonderful ride. But I am not like Roy Rogers yet. I am not going off into the sunset. I’m still riding my horse on the range. Just a different range.”

Author: Christopher Schwarting '24

Christopher Schwarting has been writing for the Index since 2020 and will serve as an Editor-in-Chief. His opinion piece "Queen Elizabeth leaves a lasting legacy, but Gen Z must be sure to see it all" received a Silver Key in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. When not working on the paper, he can be found writing poems and editing the school's literary magazine, Pegasus.