Echo Advisor Mr. Whitehead Wins Governor’s Educator of the Year Award

Mr. Whitehead holds cake.

As you clicked on the link to this article from your “This Week In The Echo” email, did you ever wonder who the ultimate editor, proofreader, mastermind, and word wizard is behind all of these pieces? It’s the same man who gets up at 5 a.m. every morning, eats a hearty mushroom omelet, completes The New York Times crossword, Wordle, and Spelling Bee all before 7:00 a.m. On the morning of Monday, December 5, Mr. Gary J. Whitehead went about this typical routine, quite unknowing of the recognition he would soon receive. Later that day, Mr. Whitehead was announced as the Governor’s Educator of the Year. The award is coordinated by the Governor’s Educator of the Year Program and seeks to recognize educators who excel in and outside of their classroom as mentors to students. Educators can be nominated by administrators, staff members, students, and parents across the community.

Whitehead is a long-time English teacher at THS, teaching at Tenafly for the past 26 years. This year, Whitehead teaches AP English Language, Senior English CPB, Senior English: Contemporary American Poetry, and Journalism CPA and Honors. Whitehead shared that he was inspired by high school teachers to start teaching, “especially [his] high school English teacher” who he had had for three consecutive years. “And I adored this man,” Whitehead said. “I just think that I appreciated teachers as people who were patient and knowledgeable and kind. [He] led me…. [to] getting my master’s in teaching.”

Mr. Whitehead channeled this teaching style into his own career, as many of Whitehead’s students feel the exact same way about him. “He’s a teacher that really cares a lot about all his students and is willing to go great lengths to help each and every one of them,” Rowan Copes (’23), who took the Journalism elective, said. “I think that’s why he’s a popular teacher—he’s dedicated to making a good experience for all of his students.” Liam Tenenbaum (’25), another one of Whitehead’s Journalism students, further reflected on his positive experience as Whitehead’s student. “When I go to his class, I feel that I not only learn how to become a better writer, but also gain valuable and fun information about the world, Tenenbaum said. I can talk to Mr. Whitehead about comma splices and parallel structure, as well as recommended Trader Joe purchases and mushroom foraging. I think that this aspect is what students appreciate most about him.

Other students shared their fond memories of having Whitehead as a teacher. “I was never the type of student to read on my own,” Daria Levy (’23) who had Whitehead for AP English Language, said. “But with the works that Mr. Whitehead selected for our class to read and discuss, reading definitely became more of a recreational activity for me, rather than just an assignment or homework.” 

His dedication and commitment to uplifting his students especially “popped off” when he encouraged Matthew Isaacs (’23) to converse with Membean’s customer service. “My fondest memory of Mr. Whitehead is when he supported me in my quest to gain back points on a Membean quiz,” Isaacs said. He argued that it was, in fact, “inconceivable” to invite all of your family members to an event, contrary to Membean’s opinion. Although he sadly lost this battle, it was Mr. Whitehead’s encouragement to fight for what Isaacs believes in that he most remembers. “He loves what he does,” Isaacs said.

Whitehead only becomes more interesting as you delve into his personal life and hobbies. In addition to being a published poet, outside of Room 222, he is an avid crossword solver and maker, with fifteen of his crossword puzzles even having been published in The New York Times. Whitehead is also a mushroom hunter and songwriter. “Lately, my obsession is pickleball,” Whitehead shared.

Last year, Whitehead added entrepreneur to his long list of achievements as he began his Bee Kind hand cream business. So far, he has been giving jars away to fellow staff members and friends and has sold some at a THS Marketplace Club event. The creams are lemon-scented and come with a bee sticker made by his wife.

Whitehead shared that some of his most memorable experiences include his two sabbaticals. When Whitehead had heard about the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency Award, he was keen to partake in the experience that offered professional opportunities while living in the wilderness of Oregon for seven months. In 2004, Whitehead decided to go headlong to take on the challenge. “I applied for the sabbatical; the superintendent was behind it,” Whitehead said. “I sold my house, I packed up all my things, and drove across the country with my dog to live in this wilderness cabin for seven months… living in the Rogue River Canyon off the grid was an intense and awesome experience that I’m glad I had.”

Although we may be a little biased, it is infinitely clear that Whitehead is beyond deserving of this award. Upon hearing the news, however, Whitehead shared that he “was shocked and surprised to have been selected.” He had had no notice before the announcement was made over the THS loudspeakers on December 5. “When Mr. Morrison walked into my room, I thought he was doing a lockdown because he walked in and grabbed the phone.”

A look into Echo meetings.

Whitehead is also the advisor of the THS newspaper, The Echo (since you clicked on this article, we assume that you’re very familiar with The Echo), through which he supports aspiring journalists. For aspiring writers, Whitehead has some advice. “It’s great to imitate other writers when you’re beginning to learn techniques, but it’s good to find your own voice and style,” he said. “And I would say don’t get discouraged from rejection. I could wallpaper my house with all of the rejections I’ve received over the years.” When asked what book he thinks everyone should read, he said “Foster by Claire Keegan, which teaches what it means to love and nurture.”

By the way, he has joked about auctioning off his parking spot to maintain the extra steps he gets in the mornings. Please email the editors for any serious inquiries. Speaking of the editors (Gia, Jackie, Dina, and Shira), here’s what they have to say about Whitehead: 

Editors pose with Whitehead holding a cake.

From our experiences with Mr. Whitehead, he has been one of our most influential teachers. From listening to our rants, fielding our endless inquiries within minutes, and supporting and encouraging us throughout all of our pursuits, we feel incredibly lucky to have been his students. When we embarked on our Echo journeys as underclassmen, little did we know that Mr. Whitehead would not only shape us as readers and writers but also as leaders and individuals. From countless article editing sessions, to late Thursday night chats, and conversations about life, we could not have asked for a better life-long mentor.


P.S. Mr. Whitehead prefers to shield himself from the spotlight of article features; we’re sorry Mr. Whitehead, but it’s your time to shine.