Mr. Goff: More Than a Teacher
Eight fifty in the morning. I am anxious, but that good type of anxious. I swifty walk from my classroom to the Canton High School library, where I wait.
“Have you seen him yet?” I ask Mrs. Teliszewski.
“No, I didn’t even know he was coming!” She replies.
As you can imagine, this didn’t help. It’s been roughly a year since the last time I have seen him. After awkwardly pacing around the library for five minutes, I hear the same old charismatic “Hey, how are you?!” he asks. My eyes shot up, and as I turned around I could already see him going in for a handshake. I become eager to speak to him, and gesture towards a conference room to sit down.
“Would you like some coffee?” Mrs. Teliszewski asks him.
“I’m sorry Tyler,” Mr. Goff says to me, “but I need coffee.” He’s the only person that could pull that off without anyone caring. And rightfully so.
After not seeing him for nearly a year, and having not had him as an actual teacher for two years, I wanted to ask Mr. Goff how life has been since last seeing one of his biggest fans.
“I remember during sophomore year you used to always change what your favorite crop to grow is, so do you have a definitive favorite?”
“No, I don't. I, I, it changes, I think everything that's freshest food. I, I grow a lot of different things and I like to eat them when they're in season so there's not a favorite flavor.”
I press on, “Oh, do you still garden?”
“Um, I had to take a break this year but I still like to garden and get outside and get an excuse to kind of get out into the sun, so yeah.” he replies. I was a little discouraged that anything could take away the joy of a pastime.
Mr. Goff proceeds to talk about how he got into teaching. “It's funny, I um, I never intended to be a teacher. I went to college, I double majored in history and political science and my goal was to go to law school, and then worked in a number of different jobs. I've worked in finance, I trained to be a chef for awhile. I -”
“I can see that with the garden,” I respond.
“Ha, yeah! I worked for a marketing company, didn't do quite a bit, and then moved back to the Massachusetts area. I was doing all that in New Orleans and started substitute teaching and I said, ‘Well, I kind of really liked this’ and I got picked up by a private school the following year for all my teaching certifications and two years later I ended up in Canton and that was almost 20 years ago. I've been here seventeen years or so, something like that.”
Despite the various occupations he has held, Mr. Goff’s passions all intertwine with one simple ideology: watching things happen. Watching things sprout. Goff desires to tend to whatever needs to be tended to.
After 17 years of teaching at Canton High School, Mr. Goff was able to get to know the community in a very deep way, from teaching, to becoming the Dean, back to teaching, and most recently coaching Girls Softball. This was all up until last year, when unknowingly, a cancer struck.
“I had Stage Three Rectal Cancer. March is actually Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. I did not know that. Most people don't. And you know what, I'll give you a little bit of a fact thing: according to the American Cancer Society, it's the second leading cause of cancer death in America.”
While at first Mr. Goff seems very knowledgeable about what has afflicted him, it took him a while to muster up to courage to find out why he was having stomach problems. “I usually have a yearly physical. I usually go in December, but I didn't go until March,” he tells me, “and my stomach was acting up a little bit. At first I thought it was because I had too much pizza over February break! But, I was sent to my doctor. He sent me to a specialist who would perform some tests to see what was going on with me. They actually weren't looking for cancer. They had no idea. That was what's called asymptomatic, which means I have no symptoms.” It was later revealed that it was a “substantially sized tumor.”
“What was going through your mind at the time?” I asked.
“Well, they said ‘we don’t know for certain, but you may have cancer.’ That hit me hard. I mean, I am a pretty jovial guy with three kids.
“I didn't really sleep very much. Um, I mean actually I came, I could come back to where I was here [at Canton High School] for a couple of days just waiting for results and things like that. But it was indescribable because your mind goes through a whole bunch of scenarios. I mean, you're trying not to think about the worst case scenario, but of course that's going to pop in.” He goes on to tell me about the not knowing of it all, but it was made better with familiar experiences from familiar faces. “The not knowing, not having a Plan A. Fortunately, there was a friend of mine that was going through treatments at about the same time. So I was able to reach out to her and ask her some of her from her questions and how she did it and she warned me too that the first week, two weeks is the worst because it's, you have no knowledge of no idea even though plan, you have no concept, do you have no anything? And then once you started meeting with people and you get a better plan. And then she was absolutely a hundred percent right.”
Anyone who knows Mr. Goff knows that he is a jokester. Reminiscing of my sophomore US History class, every day there would be a new joke. Most jokes consisted of Dad jokes like “How do you make a Kleenex dance? Put a little boogie in it!” to talking about how he’s in his early twenties and how he just got out of college, to even stopping class for half the period to talk about different types of movies. Each day I would laugh so much. Jokes have always been part of his life, so when something like Stage Three Rectal Cancer doesn’t change someone, then they are strong.
Not only do his students believe that he is strong, but his colleagues do as well. Mr. Chamberlain, a fellow history teacher recently said, “If anyone is a fighter, it's Mr. Goff. He epitomizes tenacity, grit and determination. He looks like he could go out onto a football field today and play a full game. He doesn't let circumstances impact his outlook on life and his drive to fight. It's a quality that has served him well over the course of his life and certainly in this battle. His outlook and demeanor continue to blow me away.”
“Once I began teaching, he became a source of wisdom for me, alongside his stable of corny jokes.” Mr. Chamberlain said.
“It was tough, especially early on,” Goff said. “My brother tried to crack jokes with me and I just told him that ‘I’m not there, I can’t do this right now.’ But, after we started treatment and everything, I just started being me. I thought ‘Why be miserable when I can be happy?’ I look at it as just do the best you can with it, because there's nothing you can do about it. You can either laugh about it or cry about it. And laughing is way more fun.”
Due to his personable qualities, Goff always went out of his way to speak to and befriend all faculty members within the school. Ms. Ashley, the English Department head at CHS, confidentiality holds Mr. Goff in high regard.
“Mr. Goff is a close friend of mine,” Ashley told me. “When I first came to Canton High he was one of the first people I met. Over the years, Mr. Goff and I were on several committees together, we often taught the same students and we became fast friends. In fact, students used to say that I was "The Female Mr. Goff"! I like to think he is the male Ms. Ashley, but who's to judge?!” One thing that stuck out to me was when she said, “Mr. Goff is one of my go-to people and I miss chatting with him at school.”
“Mr. Goff is one of the strongest people I know. He is physically strong and mentally strong. From the moment he was diagnosed, he chose to be positive. After each new hurdle he would be up walking around, taking care of his yard and home and cooking, when others would have been in bed!” Ms. Ashley said.
But those are just two people. On May 20th, 2017, the CHS community held Goff Strong Day, a day to celebrate Mr. Goff as he went through his fight against cancer. For the whole day, people wore Mr. Goff’s favorite color blue and accessorized that with a blue wristband that says “Troubles come, & they will pass.” When I asked him about the day, he firstly jumped to his opinion on the bracelets, saying “It’s good you still have your bracelet [Tyler], because it goes with a lot of different fashions!“
“It was awesome, but whatever I say will fall short of words. It was overwhelming. I mean it's just amazing. I'm not usually an emotional person, but I'd be lying if I told you I didn't choke up a little bit. To see all that. And softball: I was the only softball coach for a year and they had “Goff's Game”, um, where they donated some money to Dana-Farber and was like I said, outreach from the school, the different, different groups, which is amazing. Overwhelming. And the Goff Day, I couldn't thank Mr. Folan and the school community enough because it was just another level of support and you just look at that and think,’ how do you not keep going?’ How do you not smile through that and see all that and the scale, like, ‘alright, another treatment, let's go’ even if you don't want to. It was really moving and touching and I'm so thankful for that because people were just awesome.”
The excitement and emotions Goff felt that day were tremendous, even mentioning that going through some hard days - while he isn’t materialistic, he will peruse through the countless cards, emails and pictures that the school community created for him.
"That made me feel good because we're giving you recognition of like how awesome you are and everything and like how much we miss you.” I told him. I have waited so long to tell him that, because if you haven’t been able to tell by this story, I truly look up to him because of how much influence he has had in my life. For starters, I love history now. I used to like it, but never as much as I do now. And because of him, for a long time a considered becoming a history teaching by mirroring his image so I could be as great as him. While I no longer want to pursue that career, I believe that someone who had that much influence on one’s life should be remembered. The importance of Jim Goff in my life has been extraordinary. There wasn’t anything bad I could think to describe him as. He is the definition of a fantastic teacher.
With the giddiness I felt throughout this entire interview, I just had to ask him “Do you have any idea of when you’ll be back?”
Immediately, he responded, “I get tested every three months. I have a lot of tests, and a big test in July, but my plan is to return in the Fall, which was a little bit ahead of schedule with the surgical team. They said that the Fall would be ambitious, but it looks like at this point in time it's probably going to happen. A lot of tests, a lot of variables. But, you know, I'm looking forward to it and moving forward to coming back.”
Mr. Goff loves his job, if you couldn’t already tell. When Goff was very sick, “sitting at home all day watching tv or just doing whatever was OK, because that's really what I was doing. But now I kind of want to do stuff. I'm like, I still get tired and things like that, but, I just can't sit in my house and watch tv or do whatever. So I try to find things to keep myself busy and some of it is actually looking at schoolwork and I'm trying to get back into school mode for the Fall. So I'm real excited about that.”
The last question I asked him was what three words describe him. “Three words that describe me? Good gravy.” I quickly replied, “That’s two!” We both shared a laugh that I have missed for so long. “Um, I think ‘optimistic’, ‘hardworking’, and ‘diligent’ in no particular order. I think part of being optimistic is looking and laughing at yourself and laugh at life because if you don't, then you're going to end up crying at life all the time and that's not fun. Unfortunately though, my days as an “ab model” are over.” I was quick to remind him that one of his self-describing words was optimistic.
Countless people would agree with Goff, while also adding “strong”, “fighter”, “funny”, “nice”, “charismatic”, and “smart”.
Mr. Goff is an admirable man. The whole point of this article was to highlight who Mr. Goff is and why he's awesome. Why is he the only person to get away with getting coffee? Because he’s him. Because he proves time and time again that he is charismatic. Because he’s someone who can be looked up to.
I can’t wait to see him return and be back in the sun, growing crops and helping young minds (like mine) sprout.