After 30+ years in education, Principal Nick Yaffe announces retirement
Beloved Wildwood Elementary principal, Nick Yaffe, will be retiring from his more than 30-year career in education at the end of this year. Yaffe explained this difficult decision in a recent video announcement sent out to students and families. “This was a really, really hard decision,” he said, “because I absolutely love my job as principal.”
Yaffe, who was originally raised in Boston, MA, recalls not being certain of his future career growing up. After graduating from high school on Long Island, he was accepted into college at Harvard University, where he studied for a year before realizing that he wasn’t ready for college and made the decision to drop out. He described the next couple of years to be ones of self-reflection. “It was the sixties. I traveled around the country, trying to find myself,” he said. “Eventually, though, I came back to Cambridge.”
In his twenties, Yaffe’s introduction to teaching started suddenly when he was asked by some friends to volunteer at a local parent-cooperative daycare center. Before this, he had never thought about working with children; however, he found the experience to be so enjoyable that he began regularly substitute teaching at the daycare.
Not too long after, he was hired as a preschool teacher, which ultimately led to his decision to go back to school. “I decided that I should learn something about children,” he said, “so I went back to college.”
Yaffe also described this experience at the daycare to be the beginning of his fascination with teaching and working with children. “I realized that there is always something to learn when teaching. [Teaching] really filled both my heart and mind,” he said.
After college, he began to student-teach at many of the local schools in Cambridge. Then, after a trip to India in which he studied meditation, he heard about an opening in Amherst at Marks Meadows, a lab school where he would teach for fourteen years before becoming the principal of Wildwood Elementary School.
One of Yaffe’s favorite parts about being the principal at Wildwood (a job he has held for 19 years) was being able to watch the kids grow and change as people. He especially enjoyed being a positive influence in their growth. Furthermore, he is proud of his contribution to Wildwood’s accepting and diverse community. “It’s a community where people can be themselves, can discover who they are, and can be accepted,” Yaffe said.
Yaffe also highlighted the positive effect teaching/being a principal has had on him personally. To him, working with children has not only opened his heart but also his mind, for he finds that teaching is both emotionally rewarding and intellectually stimulating.
Furthermore, he believes that being the principal at Wildwood has allowed him to express his whole self, whether that be through singing, writing, doing art, or just generally being silly. “It brings out my inner child,” he said.
During his time as an educator, Yaffe has seen a change in the values of Amherst schools. Yaffe believes that schools have gotten better over the years at creating an environment in which all kids feel like they belong. He has also noticed an increase in school awareness when it comes to social justice, and looking at how to help kids understand racism and its roots. “I’m really optimistic about this change,” he said. “and I believe in these schools.”
Something that hasn’t changed during his career is the children, who he has always loved and enjoyed getting to see every morning before school. “I really admire how much love children have,” he said. “They open my heart.”
The decision to retire was a very difficult one for Yaffe, for he still very much loves his job and cares deeply for the students and staff at Wildwood. However, as stated in his retirement video, he feels that he is getting to a place in his life in which he wants to spend more time with his family (including his feisty cat Rufus), something that can be difficult to do as a principal.
He also acknowledges that many things will stay the same after he leaves. “What Wildwood is as a community, including the staff and the people who are here, will stay the same,” he said. “It will carry on.”
There are many things Yaffe will miss about being the principal. Not only will he miss his daily interactions with the students, but he will also miss the Wildwood staff and the sense of camaraderie and community that has been built among the adults working there. “I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to serve such a beautiful community,” he said.
During retirement, Yaffe hopes to continue helping children and families in any way that he can. He also hopes to dedicate some time to turning his attention inward, whether that be through meditation or yoga, or just self-reflection.
Regardless of what he does, he is excited for this new chapter of his life. “I believe every ending is like a new beginning,” he said.