Flying Home to the Hangar

Alumni Discuss Why They Chose to Return to Chaminade as Faculty Members 

Mr. Andrew Garcia 16, Mr. Denis Flood 89, & Mr. Gregory Saporita 02 (left to right) represent three decades of faculty alum.

Nathaniel Thomas ’25

One of the most important goals of Chaminade High School  has always been to create a sense of family among students and faculty members. As the Chaminade family grows with new students every year, the faculty also continues to expand—and a major part of the faculty expansion is thanks to Chaminade graduates. 60 of Chaminade’s 114 faculty members, or 53%, walked the halls as students for four years before returning as instructors. But why is it that they chose to build their career at the very place where they attended high school? What is it like helping to teach in the place that taught you?

To attempt to answer these questions, Tarmac conducted interviews with three faculty members who graduated from Chaminade in three different decades: Mr. Denis Flood ’89, Mr. Gregory Saporita ’02, and Mr. Andrew Garcia ’16. Each teacher had different, fascinating stories to share about how they ended up back at Chaminade and what they think about the experience so far.

Tarmac: When you were graduating from Chaminade, if someone said that you would be teaching here in the future, how would you have reacted? What was the path that took you back here?

Flood: Coming back here was the furthest thing from my mind. When I graduated, I had the fullest intention of being as far from Chaminade as I could. When I went to college, I was a pre-med biology major at St. John’s University, and my goal was to become a doctor.

While I was at St. John’s, I started coaching basketball at St. Raymond School in East Rockaway for 9th and 10th graders. Looking for a little extra money, I came to Chaminade to see if there was any work I could do at the school. They hired me as the after-school open gym supervisor from 3-5 p.m. each day. Basically, that reignited my passion for basketball (I had played basketball at Chaminade). I slowly but surely realized that I really wanted to be a basketball coach.

I changed my major to a subject I enjoyed more, English, because I had a bit of a passion for writing and storytelling. So eventually, since I was already working at Chaminade, it helped me realize that coaching and teaching would be a nice life for me.

That’s essentially what led me back; I enjoyed being around the coaches and the teachers here. I think I had been interested in becoming a doctor because it seemed to please others but, when it came down to it I was a person more interested in helping others.I was especially interested in helping students who struggled in school because I was certainly a student who  struggled, particularly in science and English.

However, I was very fortunate to have family members and a few people at the college level who helped me through high school and college. As a matter of fact, it was my grandmother who had a huge influence on my academic life. She had to be about 75 years old and tutored me in organic chemistry while I was at St. John’s.

The one thing I learned from her was that, when people need help, you say yes. She taught me to never give up on anyone if they want it, they’re willing to get help, and they try their best. If they do that, then I consider it time well-spent. That was a big influence on me.

Saporita: I knew I wanted to teach here. When I was a freshman, a few of my teachers were also alumni. Before I came to Chaminade, school was very regimented, and it felt like there was no fun involved. But these teachers were making jokes, relating information..We were learning while also enjoying being teenagers. So I remember being in class and saying, “I could do this.”

I went through four years of school here, and I had many other teachers along the way that were like this. So that solidified the idea of “OK, I can do this, I think I’d be good at this.” As the youngest of five siblings, I already had nieces and nephews that were four, five, six, seven years old…so I already had a lot of exposure dealing with young people at this age.

I knew that I wanted to teach and that I wanted to teach here. I just didn’t know what I wanted to teach…religion, English, and Spanish were my strongest subjects, and I really liked those the most. 

I entered college as an English major with designs of becoming an English teacher and coming back to Chaminade, but I started noticing that I was also pretty good at Spanish. I started making friends from all over the Spanish-speaking world who took me under their wing, and then decided I would minor in Spanish. I applied here, and they hired me as a Spanish teacher in 2006.

Garcia: So, immediately after I finished high school, I did not think I would be back. Definitely had plans to do other things. That quickly changed, though, by my junior year of college. Between finishing college and that summer, I worked a couple of internships and realized I had no taste for corporate work and felt most myself in a school setting.

I came to realize that I had something to give in the classroom that I would otherwise not  be giving. The work I had thought I was going to do was basically corporate law, and that wasn’t for me. I graduated college in 2020, I served as a paralegal for a few months, and then, through a few conversations, it became apparent that a  position was opening here.

I accepted a position as Mrs. Colleen Aprile’s long-term sub in while she was on maternity leave. Then Chaminade offered me a full-time job starting last year. But to answer your question, the more removed I was from this place, the more I felt like my place was in the classroom—and this school was the most natural fit, as it was the only place I’d known.

Tarmac: What would you say is the most unique aspect of being both an alumni and a faculty member?

Flood: Between being a student, a supervisor [during my college years], and a teacher, I’ve been very fortunate to have 35 years in this building. What I’ve noticed is that the school has gotten better since I was a student here—and it was already excellent at the time—and that’s what I’m so impressed with at Chaminade. As an institution, they do not settle for “good enough,” and they have done things within the school, especially in the last 10 years, that have propelled the school forward.

One thing that’s an advantage is seeing the tremendous growth of the school over time, especially when compared to a teacher just starting here or a parent [who has a son here] for four years. I can see how the school operates and what they do for the sake of the students. It’s really incredible to watch.

Saporita: I know what students are going through because I experienced it myself. I’m able to see my former teachers and now call them colleagues and friends. And the wildest thing is watching young men who I taught now call me a colleague and friend.

Garcia: I think that question is particularly interesting in younger teachers’ cases. What I’ve realized is that you very quickly come to take the mindspace of the teacher. We have to be aware of a lot that I think students don’t have to be aware of, especially since the buck stops with us.

The kids obviously put in a lot and do a lot of work, then the whole thing is quickly misoriented, so the whole thing is on our guard, in an academic sense. During COVID, we modified the dress code and things were a little laxer than they are now. But now we’re coming out of that period, and it’s, to some extent, uncharted territory as we’re navigating institutional change.

The world is changing, but we have certain values that we still see as valuable and that students don’t innately know, so we have to encourage them through discourse. Examples include the efforts we’ve been making in the last year or so to reemphasize the Catholic aspect of this school: efforts through the retreat program, the Mass, and prayer. These are things that, in moments of tragedy, bind us together and remind us of our purpose.

We have good times and bad times, and our role as teachers is to be there to revel in the good times and guide them through the bad. Our hope is that through the time students spend here, they become pillars of value and the sort of men that other people can rely on—in whatever context their lives may involve. Not all students will become teachers, but hopefully some of the lessons they learn from us, formally and informally, might last. That’s really what we aspire to do.

Tarmac: Do you have anything to say to any students who may be considering teaching, at Chaminade or elsewhere, in the future?

Flood: The lesson I learned is that if you want to be a teacher, definitely do it. And that goes for any career: do what you love. Don’t do it for the money, don’t do it for the attention…do what you love and you can’t go wrong. The truth is that the teaching profession can be so rewarding that it far outweighs the financial concerns that someone might have.

Saporita: Do it. That’s it.

Garcia: I think the first thing is that you need to be introspective. You need to be able to think clearly and critically about yourself, which is a hard thing to do. A career is most of your lifetime, and a career misspent is a life misspent. “What brings you joy and fulfillment?” is a good first question to ask, but also, “What do you have to offer?”

Teaching isn’t for everybody; it’s as much of a vocation as anything else is. My dad’s a doctor, and he always made a point of saying how medicine is a calling, and that going into medicine without the proper calling is a recipe for disaster. Find what your calling is, even if that’s not an easy process. Once you think that teaching may be the thing you want to do, you should talk to teachers.

If it really is your vocation, you’ll be willing to put up with the parts of the job that maybe aren’t what you thought they would be. But you want to put yourself in a situation where you can make fair decisions, and I think spending time with teachers or in a classroom can help you make that decision.

I also think that you should be ready to fail sometimes. A lot of people go into teaching with deep idealism, and reality can quickly crack that. You have to be ready to embrace failure in the classroom and confront the reality of the thing, and only then can you come to live the vocation meaningfully.