For Eagle Rock High School’s Todd Shattuck, teaching is “a rewarding job when everything comes together and the lightbulb goes on.” This year, he’s teaching eighth grade integrated science and seventh grade integrated science and health, and has previously taught physiology and marine biology courses.
Mr. Shattuck began teaching in 1990, while still in his senior year at the University of Southern California and earning an undergraduate degree in biology. He joined a new program designed by a recent Princeton graduate called Teach for America, which sought to recruit 500 college students to teach in urban areas where there was “a lot of need.” In preparation for the program, Mr. Shattuck spent a summer learning about “multicultural education” at USC. “Because less than 25% of the group was people of color, there was a concern that as we walked in, we [wouldn’t] have enough of an understanding of the population, so we spent a lot of time that summer getting to know who our students would be and better understanding the culture that we were walking into,” says Mr. Shattuck.
From the beginning, he felt a connection to teaching. “When I did the interview process for it,” he says, “I realized [...] how much time I had as teaching experience,” from teaching children how to swim to participating in the Boy Scouts. “I was that kid in class that was always helping everybody else out,” he says.
Mr. Shattuck loves the “academic culture” of ERHS, and the “huge sense of family here,” as well. “All the teachers truly care about their students, [...] they’re not just here for a job, they’re here because they value the students,” he says. If he could change one aspect of the school, Mr. Shattuck would place more emphasis on the school’s athletic programs. “Students can be really dedicated to their academics, but it’s hard to get students to be dedicated to athletics,” he says. “When I was in high school, I never missed a morning practice, I never missed an evening practice, and [...] if you’re [an] athlete, then you make every opportunity, [...] every tournament, [and] you do everything you can for your team, and to be a better athlete. [...] Many kids want to be that athlete, but are they willing to put the time and dedication in, to be the best they can?”
Outside of school, Mr. Shattuck enjoys swimming and going to the aquarium. “I love all things marine,” he says. “It’s that idea of anything in the water, and all the creatures that are in the ocean.”
In addition to being a science teacher, Mr. Shattuck was also this year’s coach for both the boys’ and girls’ water polo teams here at ERHS. “[Water polo] is my first love,” says Mr. Shattuck. “Well, I have a first love, but outside of that, my first love is water polo.” Despite not learning how to swim until moving to California in the eighth grade, he played water polo for all four years of high school as a set player, during which time he also did a summer program with Monte Nitzkowski, the 1984 U.S. Olympic Water Polo coach. After high school, however, Mr. Shattuck did not play water polo again until the year 2000, when he joined a master’s team, playing “a lot of pick-up games” in Burbank and at CalTech over the course of the following decade.
Now, after a school year of coaching, Mr. Shattuck says that “it’s easier to play [water polo] than to coach [it],” and that the sport has changed “massively” over time. Mr. Shattuck feels that this year’s water polo season was a success overall, though he wishes that there had been more opportunities for the freshmen and sophomore athletes to play during the fall boys’ season. “It was a building year,” he says. He also notes the team’s perseverance during a five-game tournament at the end of the season. “They didn’t give up. [...] It was really great to see their growth, and that all the time they’d put in during the season came to fruition in that final tournament.”
For the winter girls’ season, Mr. Shattuck wishes that there had been a few more players on the team. “It's not that [the teams we were playing against] were better than us, it’s just that they had [...] a whole bench [of subs]. [...] It's amazing the dynamics when you can literally swap out a bench. [...] Our girls’ team had to swim full force the entire time, and they would go against people that were fresh.”
Despite a “brutal” five-week absence during the winter athletic season that Mr. Shattuck had “no control over”—causing the girls’ team to miss several weeks of practice, a tournament, and “a huge opportunity to grow”—the team still finished third overall in L.A.-CIF, and made it to the state playoffs. “They came back with full force, they practiced prior to me being able to come back, and I think that they finished the season strong,” he says.
Looking forward, Mr. Shattuck hopes the girls’ team can grow, so that more students can experience the benefits of belonging to a team. “Understanding how to best play with your teammates is crucial,” he says, “there’s that team bond that you get when you spend a couple years playing with other people in a sport.”