When I describe myself and what I do, I say, “I’m a teacher and a dean.” Being a teacher always comes first. Teaching is reliably the best part of the day. I have a hard time sitting when I teach: I pace a lot, wave my arms, talk loudly, and write messy notes on the board. I get every kid talking, even when it’s like squeezing blood from a stone. My students keep me young, and adolescent distrust of academic hogwash keeps me honest—it’s hard to get sanctimonious and preachy when a group of teenagers is giving you the stink eye.
I teach American lit, starting with the Puritans and ending with the moderns. We spend a lot of time on 19th-century ideas about self-reliance, and the first big assignment is to write a philosophical essay. Last term we read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is a challenge. Twain uses the “n” word over 200 times in the novel. Before we started the book, we spend most of a class talking about how we were going to handle that; we ultimately decided to use a pause instead when reading aloud. About half the papers on Huck Finn took up the question of whether it was racist or antiracist. At the end of the course, the students’ feedback was, “Boy, we read a lot. It was more like an AP course than my AP course was.”
I show up for everything that’s going on at the school: sports, performances, whatever students are doing. I sing with the choir for Sacred Concert and Vespers. I like that we sing together as a school; more singing is better as far as I’m concerned. I performed in a student-directed production of The Laramie Project, which had a cast of more than 20 students and faculty. It was fun to be directed by students, who pull no punches and are very direct.
Service Day in April was a highlight of the year. I worked with two science teachers and a group of kids I’d never met before. We took a chainsaw, hand tools, bottles of water, and sack lunches, and we cleared trails in forestland behind the Northfield campus. We saw vernal pools and looked at egg masses of frogs and salamanders. At the end of the day, everybody was tired and sore and cheerful, and we’d accomplished a lot.
Relationships between kids and adults at NMH are friendly and open. I think that’s one of our real strengths: we make the promise that we’re going to make powerful and lasting relationships with students. My challenge as a dean and a teacher is to keep that promise, and to do it better and better.