Doc Fast Retires After 35 Years of Service

After an extraordinary 35 years, Belmont Hill is saying goodbye to a revered member of our community. Through his various roles as a teacher, coach, mentor, friend, and administrator over the last three and a half decades, Dr. Jeffrey A. Fast leaves an indelible mark on countless students who will forever be grateful for his contributions to their lives.

From a young age, Dr. Fast showed a commitment to both academic and athletic pursuits, excelling in both. He attended the Pingry School in New Jersey, where he was a three-sport varsity athlete, participating on the soccer, swim and dive, and lacrosse teams. Reflecting on his own high school experience, Dr. Fast said that Pingry was “similar to Belmont Hill in many ways, in that both schools employ the teacher-coach model.” After high school, Dr. Fast attended Oberlin College, where he again was a three-sport varsity athlete, playing on the soccer, hockey, and lacrosse teams. This feat was made even more impressive due to the fact that when Dr. Fast joined the Oberlin hockey team, he had not played hockey since middle school. By Senior year, his team elected him captain on both the soccer and lacrosse teams, showcasing his leadership and commitment to each team. Dr. Fast capped off his athletic career by being named to the All-Ohio Lacrosse Conference First Team in 1967.

Following his impressive collegiate career, Dr. Fast joined the U.S. Peace Corps, and was sent to teach at Aquinas University of Legazpi in the Philippines for two years. While abroad, he taught a number of electives, including a semester-long Shakespeare course to over fifty students. Teaching this course sparked his lifelong passion for the famed British playwright.

After his time in the Peace Corps, Dr. Fast attended York University in Toronto, Canada, where he received an M.A. in English Literature. On a recommendation from a professor at York, Dr. Fast then enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the prestigious Shakespeare Institute in Stratford, England, where he completed a 550 page thesis entitled Shakespeare, Verdi, and Boito: A Study of Boito’s Shakespeare Libretti and Verdi’s Shakespeare Operas. 

Upon completing his own studies, Dr. Fast began his illustrious teaching career at the Webb Schools, in Claremont, California. During his fifteen years of teaching English and Literature at the Webb, he also held many administrative roles, including Academic Dean, Dean of Students, English Department Head, Chair of the Curriculum Committee, and the Director of the Webb Schools summer studies program. While on a semester sabbatical from Webb, he taught English at the Toin Gakuen School in Yokohama, Japan in 1984.

After fifteen years at Webb, Dr. Fast was welcomed into the Belmont Hill community in the Fall of 1988. While at Belmont Hill, Dr. Fast has served in an impressive variety of roles. He was English Department head for twenty-one years. Additionally he held administrative roles as Form V Head Advisor, Director of Curricular Affairs and served on the Disciplinary Committee. In the classroom, he has taught countless Belmont Hill students in a variety of electives, Shakespeare, Inner Voyages, Faulkner, American Literature, African American Literature, Literature of Social Reflection, and an Inquiry course entitled Pathways to Social Justice. As part of Belmont Hill Athletics, Dr. Fast was the driving force behind the creation of the JV Lacrosse program in 1989, a team he coached for thirty years before moving on to middle school lacrosse. Furthermore, he coached various levels of Belmont Hill soccer, and for seven years, he was in charge of an exchange program for the 3A Soccer team with a school in Knutsford, England. Each year, one team would travel to the other’s school during August, playing matches with neighboring schools and clubs. 2013 was a particularly successful season for Dr. Fast, as JV Lacrosse completed an undefeated 15-0 season and 3A Soccer finished the year 14-1-1.  Dr. Fast sees the playing fields as an extension of the classroom, and believes that sports are a vehicle for teaching students how to work together towards a common goal. Even though he was part of the swim and dive team in high school, as both a player and a coach, he prefers team sports to individual competitions because of the collaborative nature of teammates acting as a single unit. Additionally, Dr. Fast believes that sports help boys “learn self-control and equanimity.” As a coach, Dr. Fast respects referees and will never intervene “unless he sees unchecked malice out in the field of play.” This belief comes from when he was intentionally injured in a college lacrosse game against Ohio State.

Throughout his time at Belmont Hill, Dr. Fast furthered his education by taking summer courses at both the University of Cambridge (twice) and University of Oxford. He also participated in a program called Teachers as Scholars, which offered classes in selected topics at colleges in the Boston area like Harvard and Tufts. Dr. Fast regularly seeks opportunities to teach students around the world, and has spent six summers teaching in Shenzhen, China, and another summer in Taipei. He has taught writing, grammar, ACT prep, GMAT, and Shakespeare to students applying to both U.S. and UK boarding schools. His experience teaching students worldwide showed him that “all teenagers are teenagers,” they all act in similar ways, regardless of their culture or circumstances.

Dr. Fast loves Belmont Hill, most prominently the camaraderie among the student body and the close relationships fostered between students and teachers. He says that the faculty are incredibly close and supportive of each other and that “we always have a good time pranking one another.” He credits the closeness of the entire community and the school’s commitment to its core values as the main reason he has stayed at Belmont Hill for so long. He has always felt aligned with the school culture. He has always felt supported by the administration, another reason for his extended tenure at Belmont Hill.

Dr. Fast has had an extensive career in education, teaching at independent schools for over fifty years. He loves learning. His commitment to education, along with his educational philosophy, have made him a phenomenal teacher. His intense passion for teaching students and for his subject of matter make his classes fun, thoughtful, challenging, and engaging. Through his classes, students learn how to engage with literature, to interact purposefully with others, and to be disciplined. He teaches students to think with precision, how to ask productive questions, to think critically, and to see the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic lenses. His banter with students provides his classroom with a comfortable feel, but he also reels in “rascals” if and when the classroom becomes too rambunctious. His own experience as a student has informed his teaching. His senior English teacher at Pingry taught him the power of positive encouragement; his soccer coach taught him the power of commitment and hard work.

His approach to teaching has changed in significant ways since his early days as a novice. The composition of every class is different. He uses a variety of teaching tools to achieve his holistic goals. The resources he brings to the classroom table –– from his own learning and teaching experience –– have vastly increased since he began teaching half a century ago. Often, when he feels the need, he creates his own materials. After moving from Webb to Belmont Hill, he had only one semester to teach his Shakespeare elective, rather than the full year he became accustomed to at his previous school. To compensate, Dr. Fast created the remarkable Shakespeare Backstory, an online PDF full of Shakespeare excerpts and notes. He has always provided his students with segments from this compendium. To accommodate the constraints of a semester-long course, he opens his Shakespeare elective with a sequence of scenes selected from a variety of plays as a way to illustrate various scribal devices. Dr. Fast spent an entire summer on Shakespeare Backstory, an example of his drive and passion to enhance the learning environment for his students.

Recently, Dr. Fast has taken on a new challenge: push-ups. What first started off as a way to exercise while living in an apartment in Shenzhen, China, push-ups have become a part of his everyday regimen, allowing him to stay fit. He records the number of his push-ups in his calendar. Since April 2022, he has done over 165,000 push-ups, and currently averages around 600 a day. He does one set of about 200 when he wakes up, and another set upon arriving in his classroom in the morning. He does a third set mid-morning, and usually does his last set at home in the evening. Push-ups are another example of Dr. Fast’s perseverance and determination.

In 2022, the Rashes Family, P’22, established the Dr. Jeffrey A. Fast Visiting Authors and Writers Fund, which helps the English Department recruit authors and writers to come to Belmont Hill each year, while honoring “the extraordinary teaching and mentoring of Dr. Jeffrey A. Fast.” This year, the fund brought esteemed poet Regie Gibson to school for an entire week, a wonderful event for the entire Belmont Hill community. Dr. Fast feels grateful to be honored with this fund, but is especially grateful that it will benefit the entire Belmont Hill community for many years to come, most particularly the students who will have an opportunity to interact with inspirational authors.

As Dr. Fast heads into retirement, he does not yet have any set plans. He is following the advice of Dr. Melvoin, who told him to “not say ‘yes’ to anything in the first six months after retirement.” Doc is planning to help out with 3A Soccer in the Fall and 3rds Lacrosse in the Spring, along with plans to purchase a bike to help him stay fit. Dr. Fast feels extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do what he loves doing all his professional life. He is also incredibly thankful for all his teacher-colleague friends who taught him, or ribbed him, of come to his rescue during his long tenure.

Dr. Jeffrey A. Fast is an amazing, kind, humble, witty, man who leaves a significant, undeniable mark on everyone he interacts with, and Belmont Hill is lucky to have had such a talented teacher, coach, and mentor on its campus. The Panel wishes Dr. Fast best of luck for all that lies ahead, and is excited that he will remain on the Belmont Hill campus, albeit in a smaller capacity, next year.

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