The hidden sides of Mr. Hanlon

Matthew Hanlon kayaks the Little Falls stretch of the Potomac River in June. Kayaking has taken Hanlon down the Grand Canyon and rivers all over Virginia. Next summer Hanlon will kayak down a remote river in Alaska, a journey that will entail 14 miles of white water in a canyon. Hanlon also instructs people of all ages in kayaking and swift water rescue.

Even Matthew Hanlon’s beverages boast international experience. The 28-year-old French teacher quietly sips white tea with lavender from French company Mariage Frères that comes from a tea shop in France, picked up by fellow linguist and Spanish teacher David Barkley while vacationing in nearby Spain.

Hanlon, a frequent bow-tie wearer, speaks a multitude of languages: French, German, Swahili, Spanish, Mandarin and, of course, English. Hanlon said that he learned the languages through college courses and experience speaking with natives.

An exception to this rule is Swahili; it was completely self-taught. After buying a book on the language, he traveled around Tanzania for a month and eventually became fluent.

Swahili is by far his favorite language, which he says is because it’s so different from other languages.

“Swahili is like Chinese in that there is no real reference to English,” Hanlon said.

Hanlon did not take a language class his senior year in high school or in his first semester of college at the University of Virginia. But he lived in the international dorms and one day decided to speak with the French exchange students.

“I stood there for an hour, just trying to keep up with their conversation,” Hanlon said, “and I realized I didn’t really speak French.”

Shortly after that encounter he began taking French and Chinese classes.

From student to teacher

Hanlon realized in high school that he wanted to be a teacher, after coaching a swim team and teaching younger kids.
“When you take someone who’s afraid of the water, and get them to the point where they can swim across the pool on their own,” Hanlon said, “that’s a really fulfilling experience.”
He expressed a similar sense of fulfillment from teaching French.
“You start off your first day of French 1, you know basically no French, and to work with students to the point where they can go to France and actually speak French with French people, it’s pretty cool,” Hanlon said.

Doctor Who and beyond

Hanlon watches all his TV shows based solely on student recommendations and recently finished the re-boot of Doctor Who. Some students even point out that Hanlon strongly resembles the ninth doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston.

“When I put on the leather jacket, I can see the resemblance,” Hanlon said. “It helps that I have short hair, but I don’t have the accent.”

Another show that Hanlon watched upon a student recommendation was Gossip Girl, making it through a whole season before a student spoiled it for him.

“I had a student write about it in one of their PALS,” Hanlon said. “They had a really good summary of the entire season I hadn’t seen.”

Hanlon’s teaching adventures extend beyond the classroom; he is also a white water kayaking and swift water rescue instructor. He works with people of all ages, teaching them important kayaking skills. His kayaking has taken him down the Grand Canyon and rivers all over Virginia.

As a well-traveled person with plenty of international experience, Hanlon fits in well with the Marshall community. However, when he interviewed for a job at Marshall, the school was under heavy construction.

“I interviewed in what seemed kind of like a closet,” Hanlon said. “The whole school seemed like it was falling apart.”

Soon, he grew to love it.

“Once I started teaching here, I realized all the teachers are great, all the students are great and the IB program is great,” Hanlon said.