English Legend Canny Cahn Retires after 17 Years on The Hill
After teaching at Hopkins for seventeen years, Canny Cahn, Psychology and English Teacher and former Razor Advisor, will retire at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 school year.
Cahn worked with students in both the Junior and Upper Schools, and she touched many lives in the Hopkins Community as, described by Saira Munshani '20, “a teacher, friend and mentor.”
After attending Colgate University, double-majoring in English and Psychology, Cahn attended the Colgate Masters in Teaching (MAT) program. Although Cahn came to Hopkins in 2002, she taught for 44 years.
When describing her journey to Hopkins, Cahn recounted, “I worked in my MAT internship at a very rural school in central New York where the kids milked the cows before they came to school and set fur traps early in the morning." Afterwards, Cahn taught in Greenwich, Connecticut for two years. Cahn and her husband, Tom Iampietro, also an educator, eventually landed at a boarding school in western Massachusetts that, "was all female and probably did what we all hoped a single-sex school would do at that time. After twenty-five years, we decided either we’re going to be 'lifers' and stay another gazillion more [years] in one place, or come down here [and] have a new kind of experience ... and that’s what we chose.”
Cahn explained the heart of her career path: “I really liked being around young people. That merged with my interest in Psych. I actually started teaching Psych earlier than teaching English. It was the Psych and English double major, and everything else that followed, that kept me going [at Hopkins].”
Cahn's work affected the lives of many Hopkins students. The Razor Features Editor Emeritus Zander Blitzer ’18 commented on Cahn’s positive spirit: “I love [Canny]’s unequivocal positivity. She is the most supportive person to everyone she comes in contact with, especially on The Razor. Interacting with her always brightened my day.”
After having Cahn for Writing Semester, Sarah Lopez ’19 got to know Cahn both as a teacher and a person: “I’ve had her for one semester only! Just one, yet she makes it a point to greet me any time she sees me. She asks about things mentioned to her during the fall of junior year. She’s truly a legend. She is an extremely patient teacher even if she is a tough grader. She wants to see her students improve.”
English teacher Brad Czepiel noticed Cahn's impact when her students came into his classroom. “Those students write with an economy and flare she helped them find with her broad tip green pen. Syntax and reasoning must be perfect with Canny, but she leaves zero room for pretension. That combination helps bring out individual student writing style.”
Cahn was able to bring some of her favorite stories into the teaching curriculum, and was also introduced to new novels because of Hopkins. “I am so happy Hopkins introduced me to Things Fall Apart, which I love. I get to do Shakespeare every year, and Jane Austen and I were never apart.”
Cahn's teaching style made students feel engaged and excited to learn something new every day. Elizabeth Roy '20 recounted that, "class is never boring with Ms. Cahn. Even though she was my teacher in ninth grade, I still love visiting her and talking about books and life. She’s a teacher you always go back to.”
Ayelet Kaminski ’22 agreed: “I love how Ms. Cahn always makes class as engaging as possible with her unparalleled sense of humor, enthusiasm, and willingness to help us learn. She always knows how to make a bad morning better and my friends and I are so grateful to be in her English class. There’s never a boring or un-fun block with Ms. Cahn.”
Michelle Grutzendler '22 was “inspired with Ms. Cahn’s ability to bring a smile to everyone’s face, and with her love for reading and writing that is displayed in all of her classes.”
English teacher and colleague Alex Werrell commented on Cahn’s astute eye for literature: “Canny is one of the best readers I’ve ever encountered. She devours the Pulitzer and Man Booker shortlists; rare is the book that flies under her radar or escapes the reach of her Kindle. If anyone is stumped for a summer reading recommendation, she can give you 20 she has read in the past three months alone.
In addition to being a teacher, Cahn was also an advisor to a group of seven seniors in the Class of 2019. Advisee Emma DeNaples ’19 is grateful for the relationship: “She has been an amazing advisor. She was always a bright, positive light to start my day. She always has a funny story to tell or some strange food she wants us to try. She’s relentlessly supportive and she made my Hopkins experience so much more fun.”
Advisee Caroline Viselli ’19 agreed: “Ms. Cahn made me feel like part of the Hopkins family since freshman orientation in 2015. She brightened up my morning when I was tired or feeling overly stressed. I was so fortunate to have a person on campus who understood me and I could rely on for anything. My advisor group and Ms. Cahn graduated together!”
In addition to advising seniors, Cahn was also the head advisor for The Razor for 16 of her 17 years at Hopkins. “ I advised the paper at my last school, so that was a natural segway,” she said. “When I came [to The Razor], we were using software that just crashed constantly. We didn’t really have a set formula for sections–at least one that I perceived. And people kept coming and going. Over 17 years we developed a sort of an esprit de corps. Editors trained younger people to move up, and everyone came to appreciate the importance of pulling together, participating, attending Productions, supporting each other, and really laughing over bagels and spreads.”
Features Editor Katherine Takoudes ’20 commented on Cahn’s leadership: "Although she claimed her only role on Razor was to provide bagels for Production, she knew all the ins and outs of journalism and formatting.”
Munshani ’20, one of Cahn’s students and a staffer on The Razor, agreed with Takoudes: “Canny had a way of making me feel at home in her classroom, whether it be playing games at the end of class, setting up a new issue of The Razor, or having early morning conversations. One of the most important decisions I made while at Hopkins was with her guidance, and, without her clarity and honesty, I don’t know if I would have made the best choice in the end. Canny didn’t tell me what to do, which is one of the best qualities about her. She never told me the answers but she taught me how to find them myself.”
“The Razor advisers were always a happy team,” Cahn explained. “I started 17 years ago paired with the great Phil Stewart. When he went off to grad school, I was lucky to be joined for many years by the amazing Liz Gleason. Our advising team grew even stronger two years ago with the addition of Jenny Nicolelli. Now Sorrel Westbrook has stepped up to complete the advising trio."
Cahn's post-Hopkins plans are varied. “Like every English teacher, I will work on the Great American Novel, except it’s not that great. I have a Good American Novel I completed, and I am hoping to get published when I have time to focus on that part of the business. I am actually starting a second book. I have a million organizations for which I want to volunteer in the central Maine coastal area. There’s an animal shelter…and garden organization… with my name on it. And the house we’ve bought just happens to have a greenhouse and a chicken coop already there. The waters are within sight to where I want to kayak and where I want to spend a lot of time walking and exploring and convincing my husband that the outdoors are okay places.”
Head of School Dr. Kai Bynum associates Cahn with “wisdom. She has an orbit of wisdom surrounding her and her students all want to soak up as much of it as possible. She will be missed on The Hill.”
As Cahn leaves The Hill, she parts with these words: “I have never worked with better colleagues. And I am leaving way too many friends behind whom I am counting on to come and visit up in Maine. But I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for Hopkins students, and all of the students that I have gotten the chance to know. I feel younger than my friends who don’t teach. I feel goofier. I feel more intellectually challenged... and it’s all because of the energy I get with you guys.”