Trinomial Equation: Mr. Darin Clifft, the Distinguished Teaching Award, and the Zombie Apocalypse

May 14, 2014

Faculty News

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Mr. Darin Clifft’s obsession with The Incredible Hulk was not the reason he received the 2014 Distinguished Teaching Award, but it surely did not hurt his nomination. Indeed, the fact that his visage is sometimes tinged green – at Halloween, Homecoming – reflects a fun-loving spirit that colors his teaching. In a chapel presentation May 9, Headmaster Ellis Haguewood extolled the math instructor’s winning attributes as he presented the honor.

“He is one of the least pretentious, least affected, funniest, and most likeable people you will ever meet,” he said. “His students know that he likes them, and they like him – a lot.”

Proving Haguewood’s point, Clifft accepted the award with characteristic humor, saying he had thought about what he might say if he were ever to receive such an honor.

“That’s what obsessive-compulsive personalities do,” he said. “We collect Hulk merchandise, we wear a different tie to school every day, we run through plans and scenarios in our heads. For example, I’ve thought about how I might survive the zombie apocalypse if it ever hits during school. It involves Stokes Stadium, the press boxes, the baseball team, and being able to outrun a select number of faculty members – or tripping them.”

Like surviving the zombie apocalypse, he said, we never accomplish anything in this life alone. He cited the investment of others in his life, including parents, teachers, and colleagues, all of whom have helped him along the way. Clifft said he would not be able to do the job of teaching if it weren’t for the support system at MUS – fellow teachers, technology personnel, maintenance workers, even the Dining Hall staff who supplies him with exactly two cups of tea a day (which he also attributes to his obsessive-compulsive nature).

“I would not be here at MUS if Nancy Gates had not risked her reputation to bring my name to Mr. Haguewood,” Clifft said, “and Mr. Haguewood risked the school’s reputation to hire me,” he said.

“You win some, you lose some,” Haguewood quipped.

Gates, chair of the Math Department, said Clifft has long been the department’s go-to guy. “You need a computer-programming class? Darin will do it. You need a stats class? Darin will do it. How about geometry, or algebra, or a little calculus, or maybe a SAT prep class? Darin will do it, and he will do it well. He is one of the most versatile teachers in our department, and he does it all with great expertise, super organization, clear communication, great attitude, and a delightfully ridiculous sense of humor. He is one of a kind, for sure.”

Clifft, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from the University of Memphis, taught at the university before coming to MUS 15 years ago. Although he has taught a wide variety of courses here, he currently focuses on calculus and statistics, including AP Statistics. He even wrote and self-published his own classroom text, Elementary Calculus with Applications. In addition he coaches the quiz bowl team, which has won back-to-back championships in the WREG News Channel 3 Knowledge Bowl.

He is married to Lisa Clifft, a third-grade teacher – whom he praised for allowing him two rooms at home for his Hulk memorabilia – and they have two children, Aaron ’13, and Allison, a rising junior at Bolton High School.

Outside the classroom Clifft heads the faculty division of the Annual Fund and serves as the MUS liaison to the Tennessee Association of Independent Schools. He is also a reader for the AP Statistics examinations each summer.

He contributes his energy and spirit to community volunteer work, as well, directing the before- and after-care program at Boy Scout Day Camp each summer and serving at Bartlett Hills Baptist Church as a Sunday school teacher and mission participant.

Expressing his hope for the assembled students, he revealed what is likely the foundation for his joyful approach to life and work: “I pray that one day God might gift you, as he’s gifted me, with a talent you might use to touch other people on a daily basis and to have a support system like I have at MUS,” he said. “If that happens you’ll never work a day in your life.”

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The Distinguished Teaching Award
is a permanent endowment fund established in 1990 through a generous bequest by John Murry Springfield. Springfield joined the Memphis University School faculty in 1958 and served as an instructor in English and mathematics until 1971. From 1971 until his death in August 1989, Springfield served as principal of the Hull Lower School. The monetary award is given annually to an MUS faculty member who demonstrates excellence in both the classroom and extracurricular activities.

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