Within one sentence of talking to Priory’s new English teacher Tim Woodcock, it’s evident you can’t ask him St. Louis’s favorite question. Don’t get us wrong…he’s happy to tell you where he went to high school. It’s just that you won’t recognize it. Tim grew up in High Wycombe, England, about 30 miles outside of London and halfway to Oxford. Yes, he went to school with headmasters and forms, and after years of immersing himself in American school systems with principals and grades, he’s now remembering his childhood with Priory’s use of British academic expressions.
Tim comes to Priory from Grand Center Arts Academy, a charter school in the city. It’s a fairly new school, still defining itself and creating traditions, versus Priory’s rich history and legacy. He has experience teaching in parochial and public schools, and feels that Priory is a better fit. “I’ve had a good experience teaching at Catholic institutions,” he said. “There’s a sense of community and belonging, and the kids have an understanding of who they are and why they’re in school, and how they fit into the bigger picture.”
Tim’s first career, though, was as a journalist. Having studied English literature and social policy at the University of Glasgow, he put his writing skills to work after college by crafting articles and features for a local newspaper in London. “I wanted to remake the world,” he said with a smile. He also readily admits that “social policy” has far different implications in the U.S. “The American way of looking at class and social mobility is so different than the British view.” He was married by then, having met Katy at the University of Glasgow while she earned her PhD in Scottish literature. Since Katy is American, she could work in Britain only a short time. “We tried to live in London on one income, which is impossible, so we moved to the U.S. Katy is from St. Louis, so we came here and lived on one income again – this time hers – until we did all my paperwork.” This was right before September 11, 2001, so he was able to witness our country’s response to the devastating terrorist attacks. “I was getting acclimated to being here, still learning about the culture, and suddenly there was this big outpouring of patriotism: American flags everywhere, and even buses said ‘God Bless America’ on the front instead of the destination. There was this sea change of people reassessing and reasserting what they love about the U.S. While it didn’t make much practical difference for me, a white European coming here, I did see it change the debate about immigration, and how easily people can come and go. While I was applying for my green card, all the rules were changing.”
He began work at the West End Word newspaper as a general news reporter, eventually moving up to editor. He was offered the opportunity to teach a feature writing course at Saint Louis University as an adjunct professor, which gave him a taste of teaching. “For a while I had a foot in each world…I had a day job doing journalism but got my feet wet with teaching. I realized that this is what I want to be doing.” He saw that newspaper jobs were disappearing, and the new trend towards social media wasn’t appealing to him as a classically trained print journalist. Tim went back to school, earning a teaching certificate from University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Tim still keeps his fingers in journalism, writing for St. Louis Magazine during the summer. “I spend my summers finding ways to keep up writing. During the school year it’s hard to find time, so I put on my journalist hat when school is out.” He wrote a fun article for the magazine about a company called Woot, which started in St. Louis and is now a subsidiary of Amazon. He’s also profiled Lambert International Airport, including its history, recent tumultuous times, and prospects for its future.
He also likes to ride his bike in his spare time. His daughter, Freya, is now seven, and is getting to the stage where they can go out to ride together. The family lives fairly close to Forest Park, and Tim enjoys pedaling around there. They also travel in the summer, returning to England and jumping off from there to visit other parts of Europe, including a week exploring Denmark this summer.
Since he’s an English teacher, we asked him for book recommendations. “I like detective books and enjoy really well-written crime fiction,” he said. “Richard Price and Ian Rankin are good.” He points out that because he went to college in Britain, he wasn’t exposed to American literature. “I’m doing a certain amount of catching up. The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men, those are quite exotic to me. You need to know the American story to really understand it. What’s cliché to Americans is exciting to me.”
Fun facts about Tim Woodcock:
- He once lived in a teepee for part of a summer. “We could fit about eight people in, with the fire in the middle, and of course there’s far less privacy than traditional living arrangements. You can’t retreat to your own little space.”
- As an older teenager in Great Britain, he had a lot of freedom. “I would disappear for weeks at a time. I’d go to music festivals, camping with friends. That’s how I hooked up with the people who live in teepees.”
- He says his “official title” is Alien Resident. “I’m an alien! I’m not an American citizen!”
- Wife Katy, being a native St. Louisan, loves Imo’s pizza…but not Tim. “I used to politely eat it, but it tastes so objectionable to me that I just refuse now. It’s not in any shape or form good pizza.”
- He does like other St. Louis culinary traditions: “I would endorse toasted ravioli.”
- Daughter Freya’s name is Scandinavian, as Katy’s family is Norwegian by descent. “It’s a fairly common name in Britain, and especially in Scotland, but here no one has heard of it.”
Tim is currently teaching 8th Grade English and is moderating The Record. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 234.