A True Renaissance Teacher

From Jet-setting as a Flight Attendant to Mastering Five Stage Combat Weapons to Teach Shakespeare, Linda Pieplow ’72, M.A. ’78, Looks Back on a Varied Career
Linda standing in front of books and posters

Summer’s end felt a bit strange for Linda Pieplow ’72, M.A. ’78, this year. For the first time in 30 years, August did not hold a flurry of back-to-school preparation, due to her recent retirement from Clarksville Middle School. As an English education major and then a secondary education master’s student at University of Maryland, it’s doubtful that she could have imagined a career that would cast her as not only as a National Board-certified teacher and a 2010 recipient of the Washington Post’s Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award but also a flight attendant, college instructor and certified combat actor, licensed in five weapons. But  Pieplow is no ordinary teacher.     

In 1968 and the years following, the University of Maryland saw Vietnam War protests, rallies for women’s rights, and Civil Rights marches. These were days Pieplow recalls as “an exciting and turbulent time to be in college.” After graduation, Pieplow initially worked in Prince George’s County Public Schools as a junior high English teacher. However, her career took off, quite literally, in a different direction, when she became a flight attendant with Eastern Airlines in 1976. Drawn to the career field because of the opportunities to travel and take part in what she now considers the golden age of air travel, she thrived as a flight attendant.

During her years in the skies, Pieplow kept her teaching certification current, just in case. When Eastern Airlines closed in 1991, she returned to the classroom. After briefly teaching writing, literature and communication courses at Howard Community College and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, she landed in Howard County Public Schools, starting at Clarksville Middle School in 1993. 

As an eighth grade English teacher, she was keenly aware that her class would be her students’ last stop before high school. “A lot of people cringe at the idea of teaching middle school, but I like that age group,” Pieplow says, “I always tried to treat them like young adults, which they were, and worked on them being independent learners.” 

She found that students connected with “Romeo and Juliet.” “It’s a great play for kids–it’s about teenagers who make impulsive decisions,” she says. A Shakespeare fan since college, she felt the students needed to engage with the text in a theatrical medium. “Shakespeare is meant to be seen and heard. It’s not meant to be read,” she explains. In a tradition that would grow into a much-cherished staple of the Clarksville Middle School experience, students prepared scenes to perform. Initially, she guided this scene work on her own. However, she later reached out to Maryland Shakespeare Festival’s residency program, which provided actors to work with the students on their scenes for two weeks. 

Despite the success of the residencies each year, Pieplow noticed that while fight scenes often piqued student interest, the actors who worked with her classes were not always trained in stage combat. She remedied that by becoming trained herself. Taking courses at Towson University, she became certified in five different weapons–broadsword, single sword, knife, rapier and dagger–much to the amazement of her students. 

After Maryland Shakespeare Festival’s closure, Pieplow enlisted Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC) to continue the annual residencies. She became a trustee on CSC’s board in 2012 and soon took on the work of promoting the company’s educational opportunities. Many schools throughout Howard County have brought CSC residencies into their classrooms as a result. 

In addition to her role with CSC, Pieplow remains active in the UMD community, serving on the College of Education’s Alumni Network Board since 2009. In this role, she helped create the Alumni Network’s signature event, Jump Start Your Teaching Career, which connects current students with active teachers and administrators in Maryland. Hers is a “Terp Family” that runs three generations deep, from her all-American Lacrosse player father, to her husband and fellow-teacher Jeff, to their two daughters, both Maryland graduates and cheerleaders. While her time in one classroom may be over, the journey that began in UMD classrooms continues. Even in retirement, Pieplow remains devoted to the cause of education … and to the University of Maryland.