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New teacher brings passion and personality to the classroom

Meagen Tajalle, Cub Reporter
Originally published October 27, 2014

Avary LenzHaff passes out papers to one of his classes. He taught at Issaquah High School for 18 years and has just recently begun teaching physics at our school.

Avary Lenz

Haff passes out papers to one of his classes. He taught at Issaquah High School for 18 years and has just recently begun teaching physics at our school.

“I’m going to show you the most important thing about learning physics,” new teacher Thomas Haff said.

He led a student to the back of the classroom where he unlocked a cabinet. He revealed not a textbook, not a master list of equations, but a mirror. He told the student to stand in front of the mirror, pointed to their reflection, and said, “That’s the best physics teacher.”

Haff taught at Issaquah High School for 18 years and was loved by students, likely because of his unique personality, his passion for his subject, and his accommodating teaching style. Many of his students even cried on the day that he announced his departure.

“I don’t teach physics, I teach students,” Haff said. He strongly believes that the most important thing a teacher can do is listen.

Haff tries to do everything he can to help students succeed. At Issaquah he made a tradition of holding study sessions on the night before an exam. At these sessions his students worked with physicists called in by Haff and he ordered pizzas while they studied together. He plans to continue this tradition at our school.

Another way Haff brought students together was by sharing his love for Star Wars with them and taking them to midnight movie premieres. “My AP Physics students went as a class and dressed up too. It really tied us together,” Haff said. He has his own Darth Vader mask in his classroom and wears Star Wars ties to work.

Above all, Haff is a teacher who is passionate about what he does. He always knew he wanted to be a scientist. He has worked in the field and done research, but ultimately he is interested in teaching high school students physics.

Haff has been offered many other jobs, but turned them down. His interest isn’t in the job that gets him the highest salary. “What am I going to do when I’m 85 years old and sitting in a rocking chair, going back through my life where I made a lot of money? Or would I rather make a difference?” Haff said.

The decision to teach has paid off. Haff won the national Paul Zitzewitz Excellence in Pre-College Physics Teaching Award, which is given by the American Association of Physics Teachers.

He also has an award named after him; the Tom Haff Award is given to outstanding teachers in Washington state and was given to Ballard teacher Eric Muhs in 2013.

Haff is a Ballard resident and lives five minutes from the school. “Now when I’m out and about in the community I will see people that I recognize because they’re my students, where before I’d just see high school kids,” Haff said.

He called this his destination school and said getting here wasn’t easy. He was very happy at Issaquah; our school was the only school he considered leaving it for.

Haff has previously been to our school’s basketball games, concerts, and other events. But he has a different connection to the school other than being a member of the community. Haff started his career here in 1972 as a volunteer tutor. “It’s like coming home,” he said.

As a teacher, physics is a huge part of Haff’s life, but it is also a huge part of students’ lives every day. “Have you ever looked in the mirror and seen an image? Have you ever thought about it?” Haff asked. “You’re doing physics.”

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New teacher brings passion and personality to the classroom