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Philip Forgit: Teaching beyond the classroom

  • Teaching beyond the classroom
    Teaching beyond the classroom  As an eighth grader, Philip Forgit '89, M.A.Ed. '95 decided he would like to become a teacher — he figured having summers off would give him a "nice schedule." Reasons for his career choice aside, Forgit's experience in the world of education has proven to be extraordinarily "nice" in many ways.  Photo courtesy of the W&M Alumni Association
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As an eighth grader, Philip Forgit ’89, M.A.Ed. ’95 decided he would like to become a teacher — he figured having summers off would give him a “nice schedule.”  Reasons for his career choice aside, Forgit’s experience in the world of education has proven to be extraordinarily “nice” in many ways.

Forgit attended high school in his home state of Florida, but chose to go to William and Mary for his undergraduate degree.  Though he knew he wanted to teach, he also wanted to major in history, and he could think of “no greater place” than the historic school.  Like many William and Mary alumni, he cited the intimate campus, student-teacher ratio and proximity to the Historic Triangle as positive factors in his decision-making process.

During his undergraduate career at the College, Forgit stayed busy with extracurricular activities like Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity.  He took a lot away from his service projects around the poorer neighboring communities, and says the organization “encouraged a life-long interest in volunteering and public service” — an interest that is reflected in his current position as chair of the Diaconate and Mercy Ministry at his church.

Though his goal of becoming a teacher was still in the front of his mind, Forgit was not thoroughly enjoying his education classes and student teaching process.  He decided to stick with History as his sole major, and would obtain his teaching degree after graduation.

Forgit worked for a food and beverage workers union in Colonial Williamsburg for a while, and split his time traveling to visit his fiancée, who was teaching pre-schoolers in Romania with the Peace Corps.  It was there that Forgit realized what wasn’t working with his teaching aspirations: he decided that teaching elementary school would be much more enjoyable for him than teaching high school.

When Forgit decided to get his master’s degree in education, he only considered his alma mater.  He said he had “no reason to apply anywhere else,” as William and Mary’s School of Education is among the top schools in the nation, and it was close to home.  He also wanted to stay in the Williamsburg area to teach permanently, and knew that student teaching there would help connect him with career opportunities in the future.  Though Forgit’s first job was actually in New Kent County, he shortly returned to his student-teaching area of Williamsburg-James City County, happy to be at a school that was clearly a “natural fit.”

After having taught elementary school in the James City County and Williamsburg areas for 10 years, Forgit was summoned to Iraq as part of the Naval Reserves.  He was part of a mobile training team that trained other Iraqi units, a self-described “advisor to the Iraqi army.”  He also initiated a literacy school for some of the Iraqi troops.  The school’s student-designed logo was an M-4 crossed with a pencil.  Forgit remarked, “It was a great experience and I met some great people… I don’t know if you want to say you enjoy yourself in a war, but it was a challenging and rewarding thing to do.”

Chief Petty Officer Forgit’s service was awarded with a Bronze Star for meritorious service and two other honors.  However, while he was in Iraq he also received an award of an entirely different type — the National Education Association (NEA) Foundation’s Award for Teaching Excellence.  This award is a prestigious honor in the education world, and is meant to “recognize, reward, and promote excellence in teaching and advocacy for the profession.”  It requires a nomination, application, and extensive interview process. This process was in the works before Forgit left for Iraq; in fact, he already knew he was one of the top five finalists when he was deployed.  But the associated Salute to Excellence in Education Gala award ceremony took place while he was overseas, so the NEA Foundation had to make special arrangements to present Forgit with the honor.  He was informed of his success a day in advance, and the foundation arranged for him to accept the award via satellite.  The Iraqi Prime Minister’s personal security team escorted Forgit to the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad so that he could give his acceptance speech and make an “appearance” at the gala, at which former President Clinton was an attendee.  He notes, however, that this already nerve-wracking situation was difficult to handle with the macho security men waving their weapons around and trying to make Forgit laugh in the background.

When he returned home in late summer of 2006, Forgit was sent to a Navy school until the end of that October.  He then decided to take a leave of absence from teaching, and started to revitalize a passion: filmmaking.  Forgit’s interest in creating film is actually what prompted him to apply for the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence in the first place — he wanted to use the award money to fund a sequel to Tectonic Tex vs. The Rants of Igno, a sci-fi/alien film he had created with William and Mary classmates and that premiered at the Kimball Theatre in Williamsburg in 2001.

After his experience in Iraq, though, Forgit decided to use the money to create a film about the Iraq War.  He said that he “believed that the media had abdicated its responsibility in the run-up to the war and during the war,” and he wanted to “document one small piece of the war… the lives of the Iraqis as they began reconstruction of their country in the midst of war.”  Forgit chose to focus on the town of Saab al Bor and its local militant force, the Sons of Iraq, who attempt to protect the town from terrorists while preparing for elections and rebuilding the community. Forgit saw this as an opportunity to “document a small part of this war that is a part of the larger American story.”

He started Forgit Films, LLC, in late 2006 and began taking field production classes, obtaining filming equipment, and assembling staff.  Forgit traveled to Iraq to tackle the project of filming his movie.  Lions of Babylon is now in post-production and will be complete by the end of March.  It will most likely premiere in about one year from now.

Next on the filmmaker’s plate is his long-awaited Tectonic Tex sequel, though Forgit’s role as principal actor of the original movie will be replaced by another young man for this one.  In addition to the film, Forgit is getting acclimated with his new, off-screen role as Executive Director of the Virginia Education Association.  Forgit was a member of this group throughout his teaching career, and though he isn’t teaching now, he will have his hands full with the 60,000-plus member organization.  He is “excited about this opportunity” and the ability to “help advance the interests of public education, public educators and the children they teach.”

Forgit credits William and Mary with toughening him and giving him “emotional resilience,” as well as strengthening his organizing and teaching skills that have “served [him] well in life.”  Whether in the classroom, in a warzone, or on a movie set, Forgit has proven that these skills will continue to serve him and his community very well.