Teacher Feature: The Legend of Mr. Braychak


By Nicholas Indorf, Senior Reporter

Mr. Braychak is a man whom I have come to know well–not because I have had him as a teacher in the classroom–but as a teacher on the road. As a result of our many shared near-death experiences, I have come to know Mr. Braychak extremely well, and because of this, I decided to write a teacher feature on the renowned “Wild Bill” Braychak (as my friends and I like to call him).

As I sat down with Mr. Braychak, I called to mind driver’s ed, as well as a certain event in a certain science course. It was winter of my Junior year, and all was going well in this course.  We were in class, learning the finer points on inter-molecular forces, or something of the like.  Along with an open notebook on my computer, I may perhaps have also had some sort of entertainment program open.  I had taken down notes, and had officially tuned out of any explanation of the material, so I simply was playing this program.  Completely oblivious to anything that was going on around me, I neglected to see the shadowy figure that lurked into Mr. Applegate’s room and into the back.  Before I knew it, the whole class was staring me down, as I came to the sudden realization that teaching had ceased, marked by a dead silence.  I looked behind me to find the grinning face of Mr. Braychak, who had been watching me play for a good while.  This, of course, ended badly.  But enough about me.

On December 24, 1971 in Milford, Connecticut, William Braychak was born.  Growing up, Mr. Braychak had a significant obstacle to overcome–the death of his older brother.  His older brother was born with a heart defect, and had to get regular check-ups at Yale.  When Mr. Braychak was 13, and his brother was 15, his brother had a sudden heart irregularity.  When he went to get it examined, he had a heart attack and died.  Looking back on it, Mr. Braychak said that the biggest challenge was going from having a brother to being an only child.

When Mr. Braychak was young, he first wanted to be an astronaut (seriously).  But when he got to the 5th or 6th grade, he had to get glasses.  He was told that in order to be a pilot, you have to have good eyesight, so he didn’t end up pursuing that dream.  After that, he decided to become a teacher, mainly because of his experiences with great teachers that he’s had throughout his educational career, particularly in elementary and middle school.  He always knew that he was going to be a high school teacher, although he did substitute at various levels for 3 school systems.  He also taught middle school full-time at St. Mary’s.  In the end, he preferred the older students, and this is what ultimately led him to teach high school.

He went to one of Xavier’s rival schools, Notre Dame, in West Haven, class of 1990.  In high school and in college, he enjoyed English and Latin, mostly because he liked the teachers, who made the subjects come alive for him (which we all know, is crucial).  Mr. Braychak went to Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, class of 1994.  In college, he was a history major with a minor in classics (Latin, Greece, language, etc.)  In college, his faculty advisor was his latin teacher, and she helped him to thrive in the new college environment.  More recently, he got his master’s degree at Wesleyan.

When asked the question, “what kind of person were you in high school and college,” he responded that he hasn’t really changed, and that he was pretty much like he is now, albeit younger.  In school, he was in high level courses, and he did well through the sheer force of hard work and determination.  He is the same way now, making sure that he is working hard to make sure his students understand the material he is teaching. In high school and college, he had a core group of friends, but associated with everyone, pretty much like he does now.  You don’t need to have him as a teacher to get to know him.

Throughout high school and college, Mr. Braychak held various odd jobs that got him by.  In high school, he bagged groceries and stocked shelves.  He got fired from a job as a video store clerk for being a “wise guy”.  After this, he starting working in the restaurant business, washing dishes, and especially throughout college, as a waiter.  In college, it was waiting on tables that got him by.

We’ve established that as a young boy, Mr. Braychak wanted to be an astronaut, and then he wanted to be a teacher.  I asked what occupation he would have other than that, and he said that he could see himself being a farmer of domesticated animals, namely alpacas or llamas.  But really, he could see himself opening a music store, whether it be a shop that sells instruments or physical music (like vinyl records).  He said, “if I ever get the money to retire, I would look into opening a record store, and not make any money on it–just do it.  Even if it was just to pay the rent and make a little money on the side to live.  Mrs. Braychak and I could live in the back room.  She would be okay with that.  She’ll read this and say she’s not, though.”

Mr. Braychak has been teaching for 17 years, across 3 school systems.  In this time, he has found teaching more rewarding now than he has in the past.  When asked why, he replied with an almost formulaic way of thinking about teaching and how it relates to the quality of the course. When a teacher starts out, he explains, they devote a lot of the time to learning the material and making sure that they know it.  As a result, the creativity and methodology of how this information is presented suffers.  This can result in “busy work” that doesn’t really help the student to learn.  Mr. Braychak says that now that he knows the material pat, he can spend his time on reflecting on the nature of the material, and how best to teach his students.

Many students, including myself, know Mr. Braychak as a driver’s ed teacher.  The driver’s ed program began in 1963, and has been here since the school began.  Mr. Magner started as a driver’s ed teacher since the 80’s, and Mr. Braychak started in 2002.  He said that he started to teach it and drive with students mainly for income, but also because hours are flexible, particularly in the summers.  He said that he could do “a lot worse things with his time”.  On top of that, he finds getting to know students and sometimes counseling them as another perk of the job.  He enjoys the conversations he has behind the wheel, and the lessons he learns.  He says that the hardest part of the job is the sitting.

For the last question, I asked, “What advice would you give all students?”  Mr. Braychak responded: don’t take yourself too seriously, be humble, and be yourself.