Even in a sea of students and faculty, all clad in blazers, it’s usually fairly easy to spot Upper School history teacher Clayton Willets in a crowd. On most days, he opts for a stylish suit from his huge personal collection. An accomplished tailor, he does all of the alterations himself.
On other days – about once a month, by his estimation – he shows up to school in a richly detailed, historically accurate costume from early American history. The costumes are entirely homemade, down to the iron helmets and armor, which he constructs on his own forge, naturally. A true purist, Mr. Willets refuses to allow himself the aid of a sewing machine since, as he likes to remind his students, they weren’t widely used until the Civil War Era. So great is his attention to detail, he even grooms his facial hair to fit the style of the times.
“I’ve made my own costumes for every era of early American history, from the Jamestown Settlement up through the War of 1812,” he says proudly.
Mr. Willets took up historical reenactment when he was just fourteen or so, the same age as the freshmen he teaches. After seeing a group of reenactors in Vermont where he grew up, he knew immediately that he wanted to join them. Once he did join, he quickly realized that he had a natural aptitude for teaching.
Sure enough, he has made quite an impression on his students at Boys’ Latin. Many are entranced by his collection of historical artifacts, which includes several types of model catapults. He sometimes shoots them off to energize the class.
“He goes out of his way to make class more interesting,” raves ninth grader Gabe Foster, “It’s really unlike any class I’ve ever been in.”
Outside the classroom, Mr. Willets contributes heavily to the theater program by building sets. (In addition to being a skilled tailor, and a blacksmith, he’s also a carpenter.) He also oversees the Dungeons & Dragons Club, which has steadily gained new members under his sponsorship.
“He’s just so committed to his reenacting,” says eleventh grader Joey Pepe, currently enrolled in Mr. Willets’ AP American History class, “He’s obviously really dedicated to his teaching, too. He loves what he does and he wants us to love it, too.”