Meet Nancy Friedlander: the Accomplished Teacher and Artist who Founded JCHS’s Caldron

Alexandra Li and Grace Szostak

Last month, Grace Szostak and I had the immense pleasure of meeting with Nancy Friedlander, a long-time JCHS (or should I say GCHS) English teacher and founder of The Caldron. Now 92 years old, many things have changed since her three decades teaching at our school—she no longer goes by Mrs. Friedlander (she explicitly told us to call her Nancy), the SAT no longer requires a written essay, and generations of students have graduated from JCHS. However, her youthful wisdom in the face of immense change makes her a fascinating and important figure in the Caldwell-West Caldwell community.

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Li

Nancy on the Printed Press

When we first reached out to contact Nancy, we were surprised to learn that she had not seen The Caldron in quite some time due to the digital format being inaccessible to her. In the past, The Caldron had a print paper that had, according to Nancy, won many awards. Though Nancy stressed the cost and dedication required to produce a printed paper, she believes the endeavor would be very worthwhile.

Nancy connected The Caldron’s shift to digital media to the larger shift from print to digital and elaborated on the implications of an increasingly digital and centralized local media. Citing how many papers, like our local paper, have been absorbed into the conglomerate, Nancy worries about that national trend of disappearing newspapers. “This is a crime,” she stated, “because this is where politics can divide and conquer us because we don’t know what’s going on in our own towns.”

With this in mind, Nancy emphasized the importance of school papers like The Caldron, digital or print. To her, school publications are critical to “feature, explore, and praise the achievements of our classmates, as well as yourselves,” and she noted that this function “seems to be very uplifting to the school.”

Nancy on Art

In addition to her work as an English and journalism teacher, Nancy is an accomplished professional artist. Her home, furnished by a diverse selection of art, speaks to her lifelong passion for her craft. Her works have been displayed in the Newark Gallery for four decades and have had their own museum showings.

Nancy believes that having these dual passions—art and teaching—is extremely beneficial, especially in later years of life. Having passions, she explained, colors life and adds dimension to experience as a whole. Below are just some of her breathtakingly beautiful pieces:

To this day, Nancy remains an avid enjoyer of art and an artist herself. 

Nancy on JCHS

Having taught at our school for three decades, Nancy has witnessed many of JCHS’s most important changes over the years. Looking back, Nancy had nothing but positive words for her time teaching, saying that she “loved school and loved the kids.” 

Nancy taught a variety of courses, many of which are no longer offered. Some of the fascinating courses she taught included Existentialism, Modern World Film, Modern World Literature, and the Literature of Social Protest. Nancy also was able to bring her English students to meet legendary writer Kurt Vonnegut.

Most of all, Nancy said that she has learned from her students to “laugh, make fun of ourselves, and teach how to care.” To this day, she is still in touch with several of her students. Nancy also mentioned Mrs. Callaghan who still teaches English at JCHS today.

Nancy’s Words of Wisdom

In our conversation, Nancy made many powerful remarks about teaching, Caldwell, and life in general. 

To Nancy, the foundation of life is “making connections with others. Even if they’re slim,” she said, “they’re worth doing.” 

Unfortunately, Nancy sees the country as slightly losing grip of this emphasis on human connection. She remarked that she feels our country is “slipping away in this area now, as a big unit, in that we are caring less and less about the whole picture rather than the divisions.” The loss of local media is just one example of this divisive shift. 

Nancy also gave very practical advice about the SAT. Having tutored for the SAT, she suggested students opt-in for the essay portion as it gives them a valuable opportunity to showcase their personality. However, she emphasized that you should not write “what you think they want to hear… Write something that has a gut importance to you.” Her words are not just applicable to standardized testing though; they can be applied to your career and beyond.

Lastly, from her many years of experience, Nancy has come to the conclusion that “the most important thing in life is love.” She told us, “If you love what you do, and you have a circle of people whom you love, you’ll always be rich.” 


We want to thank Nancy Friedlander for her time and wonderful stories and words of wisdom. In a time of immense and unprecedented change, her knowledge, accumulated from a long and decorated career as an artist and teacher, is all the more important to hear.