By Terry Dean
John Paulett recalls visiting Fenwick High School for the first time back in early 2000s.
At the time, he was working in the business sector and was visiting a friend who lived in Oak Park. They were looking for a building around Washington and Ridgeland when they stumbled across Fenwick.
"We were like, 'What is this building?' It had a moat around it. I said it's probably a Catholic school because those buildings have moats around them," Paulett recalled.
But he contacted the school because he was serious about getting back into teaching. Paulett, who grew up in Cleveland, taught for nine years in Chicago from 1972 to 1981. When he and his wife decided to start a family, he left teaching to work for Goodyear. Paulett said he planned to work in the private sector for maybe a couple of years, but that stretched to 25.
He was living and working in Chicago when he finally decided to contact Fenwick in 2005.
"I was 55 when I came back to teaching," Paulett said. "I like to tell people that when most people turn 55 they're looking to retire. When I turned 55, I was starting a new career. I always said that when I turned 50, I was going to teach again and I was going to write and publish a book."
Paulett, 62, has a full load as an instructor, teaching theology, speech, writing and theater. In fact, he directed the spring musical, The Wiz.
For his performance in the classroom, he was recently named a finalist for the Golden Apple Award. He's one of 32 finalists this year, along with two other Oak Park area teachers. Paulett was nominated for the award before, but it's his first time as a finalist. The 10 winners will be announced in May.
At Fenwick, Paulett also serves as the school's associate principal. And he has fulfilled his goal of becoming a writer, having written three books about Chicago architectural history and the city's Printer's Row neighborhood.
"I often say these are the books you give your father when you don't know what else to get him," Paulett joked.
Acting is another of his passions. Paulett performed in plays in high school and college and has a master's degree in speech theater. He's been a part-time actor for four decades now, performing on stage and in The European Kid, a 2007 independent feature.
But teaching is his primary passion, he said.
"I really like teaching the most. There are only a few things you do in life that really gives you joy, and for me that's teaching."