Kristin Jaffe: Not What You Think

Kathy Smith
It started with a walk across the road and a cigarette. Kristin Jaffe, Upper School English teacher, had just graduated from Bryn Mawr College and was in need of a job. “It was the spring of 1977,” she explains, leaning a little forward in her chair. “I had a degree in English, so I just walked across the street and made an inquiry.” She got an interview with then Head of School, Nancy Lauber. “As I sat in her office,” she continues, “Nancy offered me a Newport cigarette. I’ll never forget it. I didn’t know a thing about interview protocol and, though I wasn’t a smoker, I took it and smoked the whole thing.”

Kristin was hired to teach fourth and sixth grade English. She laughs when she remembers. “I had no idea what I was doing. I was probably way too tough on those little fourth graders.” As she ticks off the kids she had in those early classes, she notes the number of them who have come back to Shipley to teach today. “I taught Wendy Eiteljorg ’86, Elizabeth Raymond Dougherty ’83, Jay Jennings ’91 and Jeff Hanna ’90,” she says. “My kids today can’t believe how long I’ve been here. When I told them recently, one of them said, ‘That’s disgusting!’” Kristin laughs. “I think it was so unimaginable for her.”

The Irony

Things didn’t start out well for Kristin academically. “I was the disobedient one,” she says, somewhat conspiratorially. “My fifth grade reading specialist pulled my mother aside and said, ‘I don’t want you to be upset if one of your children doesn’t go to college.’ I was the one who, when the report cards came, had to have the sit-down in the drawing room. Not good,” she confides, and bursts out laughing.

So how did it turn around? “That’s a funny story,” she admits. In eighth grade, Kristin found herself in Latin class, the very subject her staunch British mother taught. “There was no way I was going to let my mother show me up,” she remembers with a fierceness that contradicts her polite demeanor. “I started working very hard. Both my sisters had been ‘A’ students in Latin, of course, so I decided I had to become good in Latin. Once that happened, everything else fell into place. Latin was the thing.”

Chocolate, Push-Ups, and Yoga

Some say curious things happen in Kristin’s classes—things beyond the intense analysis of complex literature. She does not deny it. “One day a student brought in chocolate and I said, ‘If there’s going to be chocolate in this class, it’s going to be dark chocolate.’” So every Friday a different Chocolatier brought in dark chocolate for the class, and they nibbled as they discussed great works.

“Different classes create their own culture.” explains Kristin. “In some classes, you end up doing a yoga stretch. Last year I had a lot of tenth grade boys who had a lot of energy, so that was the push-up class. This morning we had ballet because one of the students does ballet. We were doing poetry and I was connecting ballet to the poetry.

But don’t think any of her classes are easy.

French, Gender, and Flaubert

Beyond 10th and 12th grade English, Kristin has always taught some form of Gender Studies class. “Back in the ’80s and ’90s, we taught two combined sections of 30 kids, looking at literature in the context of gender. I then did a Women in Literature course one year.” On and off there have been variations of a gender course. In addition, Kristin taught French for several years. Before that, she studied German with a group of students and another teacher. Recently, she did a tutorial with a student and a colleague on Flaubert. “Those little extras—working with colleagues and students outside my regular classes—are delightful.”

Habits and Hobbies

On most days after work, Kristin can be found at a local yoga studio. “I’ve always loved physical exercise,” she says. “Give me a ping pong table and I’m happy.” And food? “I LOVE making bread. Right now I’m into sourdough. I just love to cook. I’m a sugar person. Cakes. Pies. Anything that’s not good for me. And reading,” she adds hastily. “Ludington library is probably my favorite place on the Main Line, which is odd because I was the non-reading child in my family.”

When She Grows Up?

“Hahahahahahaha,” she laughs aloud. “That’s funny. Can you rephrase the question please?” And then she gets serious. “Obviously I’d like to travel. Oh gosh, I really want to go back to Germany. I really dream of going to Africa. That’s a big one. And I would love to go to Vietnam. They speak French. They have GREAT food. And I’m fascinated by the history. “

And regrets? She stops and looks up. “I hate questions like that,” she says with a coy smile. “I have a million.”


The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.