The Real Diehl Longtime Teacher Leaves Lasting Impact on Local Students

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The small hand is on the two and the big hand just hits the four as the bell rings throughout PS/MS 114, marking the end of the school day for most. It’s a Tuesday and children scurry toward the front doors to be picked up by their parents, all except for a select group. Every Tuesday, The Writer’s Club of PS/MS 114, taught and founded by Mrs. Joan Diehl, gathers in her classroom to expand their literary minds.

“I love learning about new things and writing. It’s two of my favorite things in school put together,” Alexander Carbonaro, one of The Writer’s Club students, said. “Mrs. Diehl is very intelligent and she helps me become a better writer.” The Club consists of 28 fifth-grade students who voluntarily signed up to be in the after-school program. Ten years ago Diehl, a teacher at the school for 30 years, started The Writer’s Club of PS/MS 114 with the hope of helping kids further pursue their writing goals and she is doing that and so much more. “The students are not just learning to write, they are learning reading and thinking skills, figurative language,” says Mrs. Diehl. “I teach poetry as a second language.”

 Quinn Breslin, another Club member who benefits from Mrs. Diehl’s teachings said, “I get to write and use my imagination at the same time and make something good out of it. I want to write and be a director like my dad.” 

Diehl has been impacting students’ lives since the 1970’s when she first started teaching.

“My mother’s students are not simply other kids, in other classrooms, in other years….My mom's students are her ‘children’ and she attends to them like a great mother would — with kindness, compassion and constant attention—way beyond their graduation date,” says Mrs. Diehl’s daughter, MJ Diehl. “It is not uncommon to get a random call from a student, testifying to their ‘life-changing’ time in my mom's class—whether thirty or three years ago.”

Originally from Brooklyn, where she started her teaching career, Diehl moved to Rockaway  in 1973. In 1988, she was offered a teaching position at PS/MS 114. “It was a dream come true. I always wanted to work for this school,” says Diehl. Upon accepting the job she turned down an offer to become principal of her previous school and hundreds of Rockaway students have reaped in the benefits of that tough decision.

Two years prior to teaching at PS/MS114 Diehl received the Teacher of the Year award from the New York Alliance for Excellence in Public Schools and that award-winning effort has shown throughout her career. “Instead of just teaching the curriculum, she’s teaching her craft,” PS/MS 114 Principal Elizabeth Welsome, said. “She has a passion for teaching and writing, and instills that passion in her students.”

That passion comes from an opportunity to play many roles. “Growing up, I wanted to be an actor, singer, writer, model, psychologist, doctor, but I get to be all those as a teacher,” Diehl said. And the role of teacher is one she plays well. “Some teachers teach to live, Joan Diehl lives to teach,” Diehl’s daughter, MJ said. Diehl says she has the perfect recipe for teaching the subject of writing in particular. And it’s “the recipe that works,” she says. “Like my grandma's meatballs, it is a time-proven recipe for success. And, since it’s abstract language, it improves thinking and reading skills,” says Diehl. “For me, writing is not simply about starting with a capital letter, ending with a period and spelling each and every word correctly. We can always work on that. It’s about creativity—making magic with words, writing something that captivates the reader—whether you’re a lawyer, teacher, or head of state.”

Her students’ work itself shows the results of Mrs. Diehl’s teachings. Rockaway Times readers may be familiar with their creative work, which is often published in the newspaper. Students not only get to experience being published authors, but the feedback from the community is an added perk. “I felt famous because people were coming up to me saying they read my writing in The Rockaway Times,” Writer’s Club student, Gerard Guglielmo, said.

Diehl doesn’t just inspire her students during the school day and after class…she leaves an impact that lasts a lifetime. “I could tell you many stories, but here’s a recent favorite: Several months ago, I received a call from a kid who was in the first class I ever taught. He told me he’d been trying to find me for decades to thank me for changing his life—to thank me for making him a writer who facilitated his role into an important part of the Obama’s Presidential staff. Later that year he sent me a box of the finest ground coffee. While the coffee was great, his success was much more important to me,” says Diehl.

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