When Jimmy Karlan came to Antioch in 1979, it was as a master’s student eager to create distinctive science curricula and prove his passion to the mentors at the head of his classroom.
“I developed a deeper understanding of environmental issues, a more profound connection with nature, and greater respect for the art of teaching,” he says.
After earning his doctorate from Harvard, he returned to Antioch. Now Karlan was the mentor facing the eager master’s students.
“It was at Antioch where I learned to free myself from the didactic, impersonal ways I had been taught and to consider teaching and learning as a dynamic creative process,” Karlan says. “The alternative educator in me was honored and nurtured by folks like Tom Wessels, David Sobel, Mitchell and Cindy Thomashow, and Ty Minton.”
Karlan was busy during his time at Antioch. He co-directed a nature day camp, co-authored a curriculum book Know Nukes: Controversy in the Classroom, and developed a bias-free curriculum for the public tour programs at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. He produced and authored The Mating Calendar: A Year of Natural Sex in New England and facilitated a highly experiential keynote address at conferences about the courtship and mating behavior of wildlife.
Now, after 27 years of teaching at AUNE, Karlan is taking the next step into a well-earned retirement. “I don’t have the post-retirement figured out at all. I’m very open. I’m going to lean into it to find out what it will turn into.”
One idea is to offer his services as a consultant providing advice to former students and colleagues in the New England area who are working in international environmental justice projects. “It’s a lot like what I do now, just without a salary,” he jokes.
Retirement offers an opportunity for leisure time, which for Karlan means the exact opposite. “There was too much sitting in this career!” He wants to return to biking, a former passion of his and continue to operate his trail camera listserv, where he publishes pictures of wildlife spotted on his property and shares anecdotes of his observations.
“I’ve been at AUNE through nine presidents and provosts. I’ve been here for over half my life. I’ve got a lot of stories to share.”
But in true Antiochian fashion, Karlan insists on focusing on the work he has done nurturing exceptional students during his time as an educator, and the list is indeed remarkable. Graduates of his Science Teacher Certification concentration include classroom science teachers all across the United States, leaders in environmental education, and directors of education centers and Environmental Education organizations.
Karlan smiles as he gestures to photos lining his walls of smiling graduates that stretches back into the 1990s. “I want to highlight these people and the good work they are all doing.”
So we let his students do the talking.
Many of his students have found Karlan not only to be a passionate educator and communicator but a deep well of profound stories and intense connection to the natural world. Any conversation with him is likely to evolve into a wise yarn of an adventure, an idea for new curricula, or a social justice project.
Below is a selection of some of the many comments former and current students submitted to celebrate Karlan’s mentorship and the culmination of his career at Antioch:
“I’m most grateful for Jimmy’s support and guidance throughout my journey at AUNE. It was an honor to work with and learn from him. He was always available, providing guidance, being a good listener, celebrating my milestones, no matter how small, and sharing many laughs, especially during stressful moments. I’m so grateful to have worked with him for five years. He is not only my advisor and chair of my dissertation committee but a mentor and friend.” -Amy Weidensaul
“I am most grateful to Jimmy for his seemingly undivided attention (even though I KNOW he had so much to do!) He worked with me tirelessly to prep my cover letter and resume, and always had time to workshop a lesson plan that I had created. Jimmy truly wants the best for all of his students, and it shows in his actions.” – Mallory Scahill
“I am grateful to Jimmy for showing us that teaching is an art and a science and that we are designers of curriculum and experiences. The more that teachers are taught to be creative and innovative, the way Jimmy has done, the better our schools will be. Jimmy fervently believes that teachers, and their students, can do more, be better, and affect change. I am grateful that his ambitions for us and his expectations of us were never small. Thank you, Jimmy.” – Clare Smith
“Jimmy made problems wherever he went. It’s a strange thing to say something like that as an appreciation, isn’t it? In another context, you’d think I’d be calling him a trouble-maker or an obstructionist. But Jimmy’s problems were of a different kind. They were playful and challenging. They excited my curiosity and wonder. They pushed me to be the best teacher I could be–and also the best person. Jimmy’s vision of what science education could be inspired us to be daring and creative. They touched our hearts as much as they engaged our minds.” – Ben Lord
“One of my fondest memories of working with Jimmy is when we were brainstorming a unit that ended up being about driving mosquitoes to extinction. I’m grateful to Jimmy for pushing me to grow as a teacher in ways that I was hoping to and in other ways that I didn’t expect.” – Miranda Fisher
“One of the things that makes Jimmy so exceptional is his blend of incredible creativity, combined with his willingness to both think and act outside of the box…In my experience, it is way too easy for those of us involved with public education to “teach at their students”. I think that this is especially true in the realm of science teaching…Jimmy has spent his professional life advocating for, modeling, and promoting the fundamental importance of teaching in a very different way…. a way in which students are integral participants…. invited to think as co-discoverers, co-teachers, and to become personally involved in the very process we call learning. This could not be more important and for this, I am extremely grateful for the role that Jimmy Karlan has played [in my career].” – Dan Flerlage, Jimmy’s cooperating teacher and mentor at AUNE.
Karen Hamilton ’17 (Antioch Los Angeles, MA) is Antioch's Director of Marketing for Content and Communications. She has used her storytelling and copywriting skills for more than twenty years, crafting articles and creating publications. She believes that communication is a powerful driver for social change.