‘The Best Mistake’: The career journey of Dr. Monaghan, West Principal


Photo courtesy of Chris Larsen.

“I have just made a horrible mistake,” thought a young Dr. Peter Monaghan on his first day of student teaching. I already know what you’re thinking – did I read that right? It’s quite ironic to think that our very own principal thought he made a mistake diving into the realm of education. But, as Dr. Monaghan reflects, it was the best mistake he has ever made.

Originally a business major, Dr. Monaghan, Glenbard West Principal, quickly realized his profound love for literature and history. This “mistake” directly led him to his career today. When I sat down with Dr. Monaghan he said, “I really wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do. I literally remember graduating from college being very uncertain of what I wanted to chase down.” He thought, “I like books, I like reading, I like writing, I guess I’ll teach English.”

Although teaching English wasn’t the long-term career path, Dr. Monaghan says, “[With teaching], you are helping kids chase down their dreams. You are helping students assume the identity they want to assume.” Dr. Monaghan remembers teaching being “a very hard job to do a good job. It’s a very special profession, it’s exactly what you make it.”

When I asked how he stumbled upon his current career, he claims, “It was a little bit by default. I knew nothing about being a dean. My only qualification was that I knew how to talk to people. I felt like I could be a good facilitator amongst students and staff.”  In the 1990s, Dr. Monaghan applied to be a dean and began his journey at West after teaching English at Proviso West High School.  After being in the deans’ office, Dr. Monaghan became Assistant Principal of Student Services and then Glenbard West Principal.   “If you ever said to me, with my younger self, at some point I would be a principal at a high school, I would’ve just laughed because it is so far from where I started off,” reflects Dr. Monaghan. 

Through it all, Dr. Monaghan looked to his mother: “My mom was a big influence on me. I was raised by a single mother, and that played a big role in my life. She was very encouraging and almost relentless in terms of her loyalty, to the point of being delusional. We lived in a nice community but grew up on the poor side of town. She had a vision about how she wanted us to be. It was a little disconnected with reality, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.” He even learned the real significance behind becoming a mentor. He illustrated that “what you are looking for in a mentor is someone who can look past your own incompetence. We are always looking for people who can shine, but we need to notice that people are working towards something and not necessarily there, and it’s my job to get them there.” He hopes to be remembered “as somebody who had an impact.” 

Outside of school, you might find Dr. Monaghan invested in a book or spending time around his loved ones. He trusts that his friends would describe him as “someone who is a talker with a sense of humor and someone who likes to be around people.” As a student at Glenbard West, I believe the staff and my fellow peers will agree that Dr. Monaghan is invested in making Glenbard West a safe and engaging learning environment. He constantly keeps the kids in mind while making an effort to also engage in the community. If there was anything I learned from his journey, it’s this: The path in life isn’t always straight. It will be filled with dead ends, forks in the road, and icy surfaces. That never means that you should stop and turn around, it simply means you have to find a way around it. Uncertainty will be present, mistakes will be made, but the road always goes on.