Dear Houston Christian students, the number of letters I have received in the mail this summer from you, my former students, is unreal. The emails and private messages are so comprehensible and thoughtful. In checking my mail today and reading what another former student wrote is humbling. Hey students from Houston Christian –thank you. It means the world to read your thoughts and appreciation for our time together. To see and read about what you are doing or about to do now that many of you are out of college motivates me. Having you share your freedom to be you is gratifying. Some of you are now able to live in your identity: gay, lesbian, transgender, etc. Others are motivated to use your faith to do what is right for others. For some, our beliefs in religion and many other things are so vastly different, and yet reading your thoughtful notes is profound. I am really moved by you. I am glad we were able to spend time together…in and out of the classroom. Please know that I keep a rainy day file in my office. I have kept everything. Some of you have traveled to stay with me, dine and drink with me, and yes, continue to make fun of me. There are so many graduating classes I admire. In the end — I admire all of you. I hate weddings and rarely attend them, but I will be honored if you desire to travel to yours as I have done in the past. Having you dedicate your thesis to me and ask me to be in your wedding has been an honor. You are loved and missed.
A few months ago the American Historical Association (AHA) interviewed me. It was fun because it forced me to pause and think about my past, present, and future endeavors. I noted that, “…I sought to study history and literature in a normative fashion to challenge both my peers and colleagues to take action and avoid the sins of complacency and gradualism….[History] guides my morality; I get to have a job that demands I read, reflect, and ponder the sins and immoral actions of human beings.”
You can read it in its entirety here.
Not too long out of graduate school, I met Jaime Rollans on a grant project that explored race, AP courses, etc,. Jaime is a noted scholar, nationally recognized authority with the College Board, and one who engaged others in her work and publications on matters related to art history and historical thinking skills. I can recall our dinners, the conferences we traveled to, and how we split bottles of wine when dining out. She offered me jobs for which I regret not taking. She is what I want to be: a scholar, a pronounced history teacher, and an amazing human being. I am so far from her; I have yet to meet a teacher like her. Yes — I want to be her. After learning that she elected to retire — I have felt a great sense of joy, but real sadness. Though we worked on projects and sat on panels in my early days, I cannot help but wonder what it would have meant for me to work in her department. To learn from her. At one point we talked about an all star history department. Wow!!! I love you Jaime and talk about you a great deal. I want to be you. I am trying. Thanks for being the only academic mentor I ever had. 25 year-old me seated by Jaime (3rd from left) on a panel in L.A. You are an amazing historian, teacher, mentor, and friend.
As part of a community narrative through portraits — conducted by an amazing graduating student, she reflects a number of narratives in the pictures she took. She lined Main Street with over 100 of them, where folks shared an unknown thing about themselves. I stated that I survived a brain aneurysm due to a benign brain tumor. My image reflects what W.E.B. Du Bois once stated — the problem of the [21st] century is mass incarceration of Black and Brown people. Hence, our color line matter is due, in part, to the New Jim Crow.
I am with Mom as she drove me eight hours to college, then stuck around and helped me unpack and get settled. 18 year-old me.
The image above denotes boarding school life under the Triple Threat model. If you do not know much about this, I define it in this piece. Criticism has grown regarding what many now call an outdated model. It burns faculty members out, and thus, will become difficult not so much in hiring young teachers, but retaining them. I have enjoyed this life, though it can be lonely as a Southerner far from home. I got a great email from a former student asking about life at a New England boarding school. In responding to that email, I thought it would be a great idea to script a post for this blog. And though not all boarding schools are the same, there are elements that define them. There was a question about Business Insider’s recent article on the 50 most elite boarding schools; I told her it was cool seeing Brooks on that list at number #33, but there were a number of problems with the list. I do not think anyone will dispute the top ten.
I have been fortunate throughout my career to teach some great courses. And, here at Brooks, I get to teach with folks who are brilliant and highly dedicated. During my first four years out of graduate school, when I taught courses in AP European History, AP World History, and World History, I worked to balance the many disruptions that came with teaching high school. Those disruptions, I discovered, were due to schools trying to do too much without proper planning. Then, I got frustrated. Flexibility was not my best part. I did learn to balance my courses, while dealing with changes I could not control. My tenure in Houston was nice in that it seemed as though I taught every freaking course created by God. Again, I had to be flexible. Here at Brooks, expectations are high in terms of rigor, though folks hate that term. I have been very successful at my previous two stops; hence, that is why I am at Brooks. My course load in terms of preps is a bit heavier than usual; however, as noted by my dept. chair when asked about the load, I simply stated: “It is just another walk in the park for me.” Plus, I am teaching courses I have taught before, and wanted to add an African-American Studies elective. I teach four courses this spring. One is AP European History, two sections of AP US History, and an African-American Studies seminar. I have a total of 57 students, eight fewer than I had in the fall. My days are not too bad, in that under the current schedule, I feel I have some time to prepare for the courses I teach. My heavy day is on Thursday. And because it is such a heavy day, I am only available to meet with students for an hour. I have allotted a great deal of time to me with students outside of my set office hours. Those times become ever more significant when I start to meet with them individually about research papers and other written work. Yes, we do have classes on Saturday; I teach a fifty-minute session of AP European History. I am in the academic building from 8:15 to 11:30 on Saturday. I do not stick around much, unless I have a meeting with a student. In the fall we have football games on Saturdays, and as the head JV tennis coach, we play matches in the spring. I thought the Saturday thing was going to be difficult, but thus far it is not. But, it does make it tough to travel on weekends. I am usually up early to do some research and marking, while enjoying a cup of coffee.
I have yet to fully determine how boarding school life will fully impact my other academic interest. I have managed to publish a few pieces since arriving here; I have delivered a number of conference papers, and have fully started on two other projects. The key, of course, is balancing my time with other obligations I have here at Brooks School. I am excited to see what papers I will be writing and seminars I will be leading in the near future. As many of you know, I fully believe that part of being a master teacher is the ability to understand current trends in one’s field.
Sports & Afternoon Activities
Getting a job at a top tier boarding school requires one to be able and willing to participate in extra curricular activities. So, being smart is not enough, as I have learned. For me, I am fortunate in that I can teach great courses, as well as coach a number of sports. I am driven by the need to be excellent on the field and off of it, as I work hard in developing relationships with my students. This is the case with all of my colleagues. When I went on the market seeking a teaching position, I knew there might be a chance I would have to divorce coaching runners. And as I suspected, here at Brooks they needed an assistant football coach. I love it. In the prep school world, faculty members contribute to school life in terms of residential life, academic life, as well as students’ athletic life. Afternoon activities, however, extend beyond just sports; it means theater, music, and community service, too. Most faculty members coach and/or are active in two of the three seasons. Because Brooks is a part of the Independent School League, there are universal rules. Case in point: a school cannot hire someone to “just be the football coach or cross-country coach.”
Residential Life and Advising The vast majority of faculty and administrators live with their families on campus. Many live in apartments built into residential halls. Others live in separate apartments or homes on campus. Dorm faculty help supervise residential life, usually serving 1 – 2 nights of official duty each week and a weekend shift every 4 to 6 weeks. All faculty, whether on campus or not, assist with occasional evening or weekend supervision. This is an aspect that Janette and I most enjoy. On weekends we will cook for Blake House, the residential dorm I am assigned to. It can be challenging at times since I do not live in Blake, but across campus in the Farmhouse, an early 18th century home. It feels that way in the winter. Often we will prepare meals from home and commute them to Blake. We are trying to create a more interesting common room; it is our hope that students in Blake might want to hangout more . As of now, it is not a popular spot due to being outdated. We do invite and cook a meal each month for my advisees, who join us at out our place. We do our best not to talk about classes. I prefer we share things of common interest, such as attending the school play or getting ready for a break. As seen above, I have come to enjoy working with students and advisees throughout the day and night. It has become a family thing. Janette is as part of this as I am. We are having a review session for a scheduled AP US History exam. We ate Janette’s famous chocolate chip cookies.