Photo Courtesy of Mr. Matthew Smith
By Santiago Sanchez ’25
How does a career at ESPN and a major in French translate to teaching about the American Revolution? Mr. Matthew Smith bridges the gap between these seemingly distant topics. A month out of Union College, Mr. Smith went to a new hire studio program at ESPN where he would train to become a producer. In his three years there, he worked at Sports Center Highlights, Baseball Tonight, and even covered major horse racing events.
Mr. Smith’s motivation to move from ESPN sports coverage to teaching was his volunteer job as a varsity basketball coach at Avon Old Farms, a private boarding school in Connecticut. Like at Brophy, many of the coaches also worked at the school. Suddenly, one day in July of 2010, he received a call from one of his fellow coaches.
“He’s like, a guy just left. We need a history teacher. I was like uhh okay. Let me think about it,” Mr. Smith said.
“Next thing I know I’m interviewing and then I made my decision. Because to me I could always go back there after the first year … I could always leave ESPN and go back. I didn’t know if I’d get another teaching opportunity at a school that was solid the way Avon is,” said Mr. Smith. Now, fourteen years later, Mr. Smith has never turned back.
Over his teaching career, Mr. Smith has taught at Avon Old Farms, BASIS Chandler, BASIS DC, Bullis, and now Brophy. The main reason Mr. Smith moved back to AZ is for his girlfriend’s job. As the athletic trainer for the Milwaukee Brewers, Theresa Lau resides in AZ for half of the year and travels for the other half. While searching for a job, Mr. Smith immediately looked to Brophy, because he knew the caliber of the school and had a connection with Mr. Hunthausen.
“I figured if I’m coming … from a great school in the DC area, I don’t want to go backwards. I want to get better. I want to improve my teaching, my coaching career. Brophy was like a no-brainer,” said Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith has a minor in history and anthropology, but his major is in French. As he entered college, he didn’t know what he wanted to study. So, feeling comfortable in most other subjects, he chose French because he enjoyed the discomfort and challenge that came with learning it.
Mr. Smith said that learning French made his English skills much better. “Even though I don’t really speak the language very well anymore and I don’t use it day to day, the thinking, the critical thinking skills, and the writing skills I took away from my French major are immeasurably valuable,” said Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith’s teaching philosophy comprises many things, but most importantly, he has one overarching rule in his classroom: the Taylor Swift rule. He drew inspiration from Kanye’s interruption of Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV awards, which he found to be treacherous. That shocking moment on TV became the center of his class culture.
“I find the most wretched, uncouth behavior to be interrupting people. Whether it’s the teacher talking to start a class or it’s a student giving an answer to a discussion question,” said Mr. Smith.
“When I first started getting into schools like, you know, I didn’t really know myself yet as a teacher,” said Mr. Smith. “So I wanted to create an environment where I want kids to be loose but focused. And the Taylor Swift rule becomes just a thing that is easy for everyone to understand.”
In addition to the 2009 MTV awards, he draws much of his inspiration from his time at ESPN.
Mr. Smith said that video production and class planning are very interconnected. He thinks of preparing for a class like structuring a segment in a TV production. “I try to utilize similar strategies and theory about engaging your audience,” said Mr. Smith.
He said that the stakes are much higher while teaching or coaching as well. At home, a viewer can simply change the channel. But at a school, students can zone out.
Mr. Smith currently teaches Conflict in the Modern World and Sport in History and Culture.