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Dr. William Ofsa's 60th Year Teaching

By James Trent
On April 25, 2018

"When you find something that you want to do, you don't want it to stop." - Dr. Ofsa
Photo Courtesy of Concord University

English professor Dr. William Ofsa first started teaching at Concord in 1958, meaning he will soon celebrate his 60th year teaching at the University.

Dr. Ofsa was a student at Concord in the late 40s when it was still Concord College. He originally came to study engineering, but decided not to pursue it after his first year taking classes. After another brief stint in the business program, his roommate Don Tie convinced him to pursue his love for reading and writing by majoring in English. He graduated from the English program in 1952, then got his master’s degree from WVU.   

He returned to his high school, North Fork High School, to teach English shortly before North Fork and Elkhorn consolidated their high schools. After those two schools were combined, Dr. Ofsa taught at Elkhorn Junior High School for three years, but wanted to return to teaching high school students. He had stayed in contact with his roommate, who was now himself teaching English at Concord College, and it was at his recommendation that Dr. Ofsa applied to teach at Concord. Dr. Ofsa interviewed with then head of the English department Dr. William B. Robertson on a stump in Dr. Robertson’s backyard, and was hired to teach that year.

While teaching at Concord, Dr. Ofsa participated in a federal program called “Training Teachers of Teachers” at the University of Illinois in 1969. The program focused on the nuances of teaching, and was selected to be one of fifteen people from across the country to participate in the program. He learned about inductive teaching, where students learn by just noticing things either in the classroom or the outside world, instead of being explicitly told those things by a teacher. He was awarded his Ph.D. in 1974 from the University of Illinois, and came back to Concord with more insight and passion for teaching than he had left with. Dr. Ofsa became the head of the English department after his predecessor, Dr. Tom Hambrick, decided he no longer wanted the position, and served as the head until relinquishing it Dr. Charles Brichford.

I came to interview Dr. Ofsa on a Friday afternoon. His office was almost totally filled with papers and books accumulated through his 60 years at Concord. Two of his four chairs were permanently taken by stacks and boxes of old papers. He welcomed me into his office, and a mix of jazz and banjo music served as our soundtrack through the interview.

I asked him what the biggest change had been at Concord during his career. He said, “My wife will ask me, ‘What went on today?’ because somebody has told her something about something going on at Concord. And I would say, ‘I don’t know. Nothing. I could tell you what went on in my classes, but I don’t know.’ And she would say, ‘Now wait, you teach over there, you ought to know what’s going on over there.’ And I say, ‘I don’t know what’s going on over there,’” he laughed. “I know what’s going on here!”

He spoke fondly about his old roommate Don. “I would come in late at night, after collecting laundry,” Dr. Ofsa told me. “And Don would be – I thought he was asleep and I’d sit at my desk and start working on my lessons – and there were times when he actually lectured… and he would say ‘Now first,’ and say something, ‘And Secondly,’ and so forth. It was like I was learning, even though I was listening to this roommate of mine. And he was so much into it, he actually was asleep, but he was lecturing!”

“I have a terrific family,” he told me. “I have four children, my oldest son’s a doctor, my number two son is a chemist in Philadelphia, my number three son’s birthday was yesterday. He was an art teacher, here in Mercer County in elementary school.” He leaned towards me in his chair and said, “And there’ll be these little kids, somebody will say, ‘That’s Mr. Ofsa’s father.’ And the kid looks at me like I’m something special, because of MY son, who was something special in their lives, as a teacher.”

Throughout the whole interview, Dr. Ofsa kept coming back to teaching. He spoke frequently about the value of teaching and what he had learned about it during his 60 years. 

"Why have you decided to keep teaching for so long?" I asked.

A wry smile started to creep up his face. He said in a low, solemn voice, “When you find something that you want to do, you don’t want it to stop.”

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