Home Education and Careers Padua Academy teacher Matt Cross ‘rekindled my love of writing and reading,’...

Padua Academy teacher Matt Cross ‘rekindled my love of writing and reading,’ student says

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Matt Cross of the Padua Academy faculty. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

WILMINGTON — Matt Cross has taught at Padua Academy for going on 24 years, so he must have been quite the student himself in high school in his native Rochester, N.Y.

Or maybe not.

“I was not a good student in high school,” Cross said recently. “I was apathetic. I was that kid in the back seat with the leather jacket. But I did have an Italian teacher. I failed it twice, but I did have an affinity for this woman.”

Cross learned about this teacher and her work in the community.

“One day, she said to me, ‘I think you’d make a great teacher. And my response back to her was, ‘Why would I want to come back to high school?’”

But the thought stuck with him.

“The idea of helping people find beauty and power in writing and in literature is something that has always appealed to me.,” Cross said. “She was right.”

Cross was nominated for The Dialog’s Teacher Feature by junior Julia Nowaczyk. She said her teacher “rekindled my love of writing and reading.”

“He continues to encourage us even when we are struggling with the material presented,” she wrote in her nomination. He teaches all of his students at a difficult level that prepares us for the future.“

For his part, Cross said Nowaczyk “has a cool demeanor” and is very relaxed. “She asks a lot of questions, offers a counter-opinion at all times. Cool kid.”

After graduating from the State University of New York College at Brockport, Cross began his career in education while his wife, Jody, was finishing her bachelor’s degree. She was accepted into a program at Winterthur, and the couple moved to Delaware.

He started at Padua, moving into the unfamiliar world of single-gender education. He recalls talking to a former Padua colleague, Liz Slater, who told him not to worry.

“She said, ‘Within a couple weeks you won’t notice that they’re girls. They’ll just be your students.’ And I can honestly say that’s the way that I look at it,” Cross said.

He teaches primarily juniors and seniors, along with a freshman honors course and two core classes on fiction and “journeys and encounters.” He likes the choices Padua offers through its English department, saying it leads to more engaged students.

“The literature we read, they just have more of an interest in it,” he said. “It’s our

belief that if you can offer a class that a student is interested in, she’s just going to do better in it. She’s going to learn more, put more energy into it, just get more out of it.”

During his tenure, however, keeping students interested has not been an issue. He recalled telling his wife about a week after starting at Padua that all of his students did their homework and that they really cared about their education.

“I say this to the parents. Every year, I have the best students. And they are,” he said. Cross said he tries to make a connection between whatever his classes are reading and what is going on in their lives or in society. It could be something happening in another class.

“Just whatever connection you can make to tap into that cognitive emotional part of them that can connect to that literature,” he said. “I’m always looking to ask myself, how is this literature connected with a young person’s life? What moral or message can she get out of it?”

He asks the students to journal, asking them about their lives and families. He never asks to see their responses. The point is to get the girls to reflect and to put their feelings into words.

He said he wakes up every morning and writes from 5:30-5:50 and has done so since he was a young boy. It could be short stories or poems, although lately he said he’s been thinking about a novel. He also loves to draw.

“If I don’t write or draw, I start to get antsy,” he said.

He and his family were longtime residents of the city of Wilmington, but they now live in Hockessin. He and Jody have two sons, one a freshman at Salesianum School, the other in sixth grade at Sanford School. They like to take walks in nature. His sons, he emphasized, have three cats.

Cross, 53, said teaching writing and literature still has a place in education despite all the emphasis on STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math.

“STEM is important, but one factor we should never overlook is we need people to think and produce creative products. So if all you have is mathematics, physics, sciences, where is the creativity coming from?” he asked.

“If you don’t have the arts and creativity, you just have a bunch of numbers and calculations and formulas. And yeah, my car’s going to get great gas mileage … but unless you have someone creatively thinking, ‘How can I design a car that looks different?’ then I think the world can become incredibly stale.”