There are not many differences between William Shakespeare and Language Arts teacher Paul Dean — they grew up in the countryside, have an unmatched sense of humor, write poetry, occasionally dress up in a leggings-and-blouse ensemble, sport an earring, and have a cult following. After 21 years of teaching, Pine View’s very own Bard of Osprey will be retiring.
Dean’s presence on campus has been characterized by his love for literature and chess. Both were inspired by his childhood librarian who encouraged Dean’s love for reading in third grade and continued to foster it. During the summer, she would drive into the rural parts outside of town, where Dean grew up, to hand out books. One day she brought with her a chess set that she passed on to Dean. It was with that first chess set that he taught himself how to play and to this day, Dean still has one piece from the set.
Before becoming an educator, Dean worked many jobs to support himself and his family. In his childhood and adolescence, Dean worked a variety of jobs ranging from walking ponies, weeding onions and beets, to even working 20 hour weeks stacking sodas at a factory. As he studied at State University of New York College at Geneseo, he worked at a record store where he learned enough about music to then work for a jazz radio station. Following college he worked at a printing company where he learned to press books before being promoted to a management position. After working at the company for 10 years, Dean decided that he did not want to work in management for the rest of his life. Instead, he decided to attend graduate school.
Dean obtained his doctorate in English from Binghamton University. After receiving his doctorate, Dean thought it only natural to enter the field he pursued as an undergraduate: education.
“I don’t know, I always admired teachers… It wasn’t about wealth, that didn’t matter, I just loved literature and I like kids — it was the perfect choice,” Dean said.
While he initially had planned on teaching at a community college, after moving to Sarasota Dean met Pine View teacher Dr. Neal Scheifer at a poetry event, who urged him to apply for a teaching position at the school and thus Dean’s journey at Pine View began.
Dean still remembers the anxiety he felt his first day at Pine View hoping that he would fit in. That worry, it seemed, was for naught. It wasn’t long before he established himself and developed friendships, namely between his “neighbor” for the past 21 years, English teacher Cheryl Steele. In the two decades that Steele has worked literally side by side with Dean, she has seen Dean’s impact on his students.
“He was the kind of person who had such a passion for his teaching and his students saw that… He always tried to push students to have that ‘a ha’ moment… In his unique, stimulating environment, you could see the emotional, social, mental, and physical growth in his students,” Steele said.
In his teaching, Dean hopes to “have instilled in people a love for literature and have been the kind of teacher where students were not afraid to talk to me.”
Alumnus Michael Shi was Dean’s student for three classes and — now two years out of high school — Dean’s teaching still resonates with him. “Dr. Dean influenced me in the sense that I was always comfortable in his class and around him… He encourages you to do what makes you happy and to follow your dreams. He’s really a believer in anything he thinks is righteous and has a worthy purpose,” Shi said.
Dean’s reputation on campus is one of distinction that few can match. “What makes Dr. Dean so unique is his odd, eccentric personality. You’ve got this seemingly gentle old fellow walking around with a coffee mug in his (left) hand and a different tie everyday, who loves literature… I mean, I think the man says whatever he wants and whenever he feels. He’s so authentic with you,” Shi said.
Beyond his eccentric and humorous side, those who personally interact with Dean never forget his comforting, open friendliness. Both Steele and Chris Pauling reminisce about approaching Dean to ask one question but then end up spending hours discussing poetry, jazz, or anything in life.
“He was a mentor to me in so many ways, but he also became a friend. When you trust a person you have no fear of sharing your shortcomings and with [Dean], I could always ask for help,” Pauling said.
Shi adds, “My favorite attribute of Dr. Dean’s is his friendliness… He transcends beyond the grade he teaches and the students in his class and he appreciates all. You don’t even have to like English class for Dr. Dean to be your best friend.”
When asked what he would like to be remembered by, Dean said, “I knew my stuff,” and according to Pauling, that certainly holds true. “[My first impression of Dean was that] he was overflowing with literary knowledge, he just knew so much about his profession… His knowledge of poetry, rhetorical devices, and literature was just mind-blowing,” Pauling said.
Steele adds that there was never a book or author that Dean didn’t know: “He was a mentor to so many of us and he’s going to be so sorely missed… I hope that his legacy of literature and his passion for teaching will live through me,” Steele said.
In his retirement, Dean hopes to travel across Europe, eventually substitute, and “read until my eyeballs fall out.” He also plans to use his new time to write more and add to the eight poetry books he has already written “in the tradition of William Blake.”
In his years at Pine View, Dean said one of his favorite memories is seeing all his students who have graduated. “The other day a man showed up at my front door with his wife… It was one of my old students and he told me he moved back to Sarasota and his son goes to Pine View now… He said that I was one of his favorite teachers,” Dean said.
Pauling speaks on what an influential teacher Dean is to his students: “We have teachers come and go and they all leave some sort of impact and the impact Dr. Dean has left is special… He is not a forgettable person — you just won’t forget a teacher like him,” Pauling said.
While Dean may be leaving, for now, it’s not forever for Pine View. “I always said when I die I’d have my taxidermied body put in Room 205,” Dean said. Dean’s legacy will continue to live on through the students and teachers he has influenced during his time on campus. Although you will not find him in Room 205 next year, the room and the teacher behind it will leave an everlasting impact.