Teacher Spotlight: Former Alumni Mr. Zach Phelan

Continues to Impact Students Through Teaching and Coaching


Enjoying the Outdoors: Mr. Phelan poses in front of the mountains at Yosemite Park after a successful hike participating in another one of his many hobbies. Photo Courtesy: Zachary Phelan.

Haley Flynn and Eliot Poffenberger

     Mr. Zachary Phelan is one of Foran’s new teachers this year but is definitely not new to the community or Milford. Phelan is an alumni of the class of 2010 and grew up right down the road. He teaches three courses in the history department; including Model UN, World History, and U.S History. Phelan is also the new junior varsity coach for boys soccer and runs the Model UN club virtually every Tuesday.

     Having attended the same school and shared similar experiences as current students, influences his views of teaching and learning. Phelan understands the school community and can relate to his students considering he once sat in the desks and walked throughout the same hallways.

     Phelan says that having been a student at Foran, “It has made me more patient as a teacher. In class if someone is not always behaving I tend to be more patient and understanding.¨ 

     As a student, Mr. Phelan was very talkative and still is. His teachers were very patient with him and because of this he portrays the same patience in his classroom.

     Phelan says, ¨… principals like Mr. Cummings and Mr. Barile that were very understanding that every kid makes mistakes which doesn’t make them a bad kid. When students act out or misbehave, it is an opportunity to build that relationship and to learn from it and better understand the student¨ 

     Phelan’s patience and understanding creates a safe environment in his classroom where students can learn and make mistakes while discussing history and current events concerning the world.

     One of his students, junior Jared O’Sullivan says, “Mr. Phelan is a great teacher. He is younger than most teachers which gives him a different perspective and allows him to better understand us as students. He is good at interacting with us and I really enjoy his Model UN class.”

     Beginning to teach at a new school is a tough transition on it’s own but it is especially difficult when new safety protocols, to reduce the spread of Covid-19, prevent seeing the lower half of new student’s and co-worker’s faces. 

     Despite challenges with technology and adhering to new procedures, Phelan says, “My experience has been great and I’m lucky to be around the kids we have, I’ve taught in some tough schools and although those kids were really great and awesome to work with I have a special connection to Foran. Both staff and students have been very welcoming. I know it’s been a weird year for a lot of people to start but it’s been awesome for me.”

     Outside of school, Mr. Phelan enjoys dabbling in many things and is a “jack of all sorts.” One particular unique hobbie of his is disc golf, a flying disc sport in which players throw a disc at a target and is played using rules similar to golf. 

     Phelan says, “I go to Bridgeport and sometimes up to West Springfield to the disc golf courses. It is usually free so you can just go grab a few discs and go hang out with some buddies for the day.”

     Along with teaching and playing disc golf, Phelan also coaches soccer for the boy’s junior varsity team. When he attended Foran he played varsity soccer during his four years and got a lot out of the program. Now as an assistant coach to his old head coach, he is excited to give back to the same organization that supported him throughout high school. 

     Head coach for the boy’s  soccer team, Rick Distefino says, “I think the familiarity of having coached Zach Phelan in the past has been a positive experience. He played in the program and knows the expectations we have and has the experience of being a captain and leader and what that means to running a successful program .”

     When appointed for the job as a coach he admits, “I was pretty reluctant at first because I was nervous to start the school year and to start coaching but Distefano started talking about the group of kids he had and how they were academically inclined and behaved well in school. It was also a good opportunity to meet 30 kids before the school year and get to know the students. It’s great getting to work with Distefano and I see a lot of similarities with the way I played with a lot of the players.”

     Phelan brings a great asset to the coaching staff. 

     Distefino adds, “Coach Phelan has the experience of being a hard-working and passionate athlete. He understands that talent gets you only so far and that the extra work and the passion puts a team over the top. We have had a tremendous amount of success this year and we owe some of that to his contributions.”