From Opera Singer to High School Teacher

Saginaw Welcomes Paul Vanderpool


Mr. Vanderpool sits at his desk after taking up tests from his first period French 2 class.

Megan Barrett, Staff Writer

Downstairs in B Hall, there is a new resident taking over the once occupied space of Madame Chacha and Mrs. Maloney’s old classroom. The walls have gone bare except for three flags and a few posters in the back. The whiteboards are blank, except for some words written in scratchy, thin writing in black marker and orange chevron tape that was left behind. French teacher, Paul Vanderpool, has made his way into the Foreign Language department.

Vanderpool answered a series of 20 questions that would give the school an insight to his personality and goals as a teacher.                           

How old are you? 48.

Do you have any kids/spouse/pets? No spouse, kids or pets currently.

What made you like the French language and its culture? I started studying French very late (36 years old), but I had always had an interest in French history, especially the history of the French Revolution and the Middle Ages in France. I also worked most of my life as a cook, so I had an interest in French cooking. I had wanted to study Dutch as my language focus when I got my Bachelor’s degree in history from UT Austin, but chose French simply because the classes were more accessible to someone working his way through college in his 30s. Once I started studying the language, my interest in the culture and cinema and literature grew quickly.

How long have you been speaking French? How long have you been teaching? French was my minor subject at UT, but history was my area, so I took it with varying degrees of seriousness. After that, I sort of forgot about French but took it back up later. So I’ve been speaking and studying it on and off for about 10 years. I taught for two years at the University of North Texas and in Cannes, France. This is my first few weeks as a high school teacher, however.

What drove you to work here at Saginaw? I’d like to be able to say I knew all about Saginaw and decided to come here. But actually I’m very new to this area and found the job a bit by luck. I’m looking forward to getting to know it better!

What do you hope to accomplish with your classes by the end of the year? I always hope that people will be stimulated by foreign language study, and I hope mostly (more than making all my students into fluent speakers) to just get people enthusiastic. Studying a language also includes studying the culture, history, food, politics, cinema and art; so there’s so much to appeal to people’s interests. It’s not all about grammar and language study.

What kind of jobs did you have before working here? Oh goodness. Well, most of my life I have been a cook and restaurant worker. I had my first job at 13 years old skinning and cleaning fish and shrimp on a wharf in Galveston. But I have also been an opera singer, a bookkeeper, a research assistant, and a counselor in a psychiatric hospital. When I was younger, I did a lot of training and sparring and wanted to be a boxer.

What is your proudest accomplishment? I’ve been fortunate to be in a position to help a lot of people with mental health problems and drug and alcohol abuse problems.

How long have you lived in Texas? All my life.

Where else have you lived? Just Texas. I was born in Galveston but moved to Austin when I was 18 and lived there 26 years. I sort of consider Austin my hometown, even though I’ve always loved the ocean and sailing, and Galveston is quite a unique town.

Do you intend to stay at this school for longer than just this semester? I think so. I’m a brand new teacher. I’ve only ever taught at the university level before, so this type of work is extremely new to me. As a result, I sort of don’t know right now where it might lead me.

What are your favorite songs? “It seems so long ago Nancy” by Leonard Cohen. All of Chopin’s Nocturnes, and the solo cello suites of Bach. I’m also mad about Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen, “Les Feuilles Mortes” by Yves Montand. But honestly those are just a few random ones that spring to mind. I like an enormous variety of songs and types of music. Almost nothing is off limits… except modern country music, which is one of the most embarrassing things in history.  

What do you like to do in your spare time? Mostly I listen to music or watch movies. Of course I love talking to close friends. I’m a big fan of classic films, both American and French. I also read a lot and watch a lot of documentaries on all sorts of topics (French and English). I like learning about quantum physics, history, philosophy, psychology, video games, politics, art, cinema, and of course the sweet science of boxing.

What kind of food is your favorite? Do you have a favorite restaurant? Honestly, after having been a cook all my life, I am happy eating almost anything as long as I don’t have to cook it! So I try to make my favorite food is whatever is healthy. I don’t eat at restaurants much, and I don’t really have a favorite one (at least not one where I can afford to eat).

What are your pet peeves? I guess that would be pettiness. I could write a long time about this, but suffice it to say that the suffering many people wind up knowing in this life makes it a bit obscene to lose one’s cool over the small stuff.

Who is your role model? (Can be an actual person or fictional person). Nobody’s perfect, but I’ll go with Albert Camus.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives? Save somebody’s life.

What fad or trend do you hope makes a comeback? Tasteful singing.

What movie best describes your life? Jaws.

What is the best thing that has happened to you? The pain and the failures. I’m not sure if this sounds odd to some people. No one likes these things, but I can’t imagine having developed much compassion and understanding if my life had been without struggle.