Boarding School Life

triple-threat 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 Criticism has grown regarding what many now call an outdated model.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.

Teaching

Chalk 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.

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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 AdvisingBrooks-School-LDKwWM 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. Students 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.

People of Color and Schools

Harvard President Drew Faust unveils a portrait of The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in The Memorial Church, 1974 – 2011. The portrait hangs in the Faculty Room of University Hall. The Honorable Deval Patrick and The Reverend Dr. Wendel “Tad” Meyer make remarks. Deval Patrick (from left), Drew Faust, Michael Smith, Tad Meyer, and artist Yuqi Wang unveil the painting. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Harvard President Drew Faust unveils a portrait of The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in The Memorial Church, 1974 – 2011. The portrait hangs in the Faculty Room of University Hall. The Honorable Deval Patrick and The Reverend Dr. Wendel “Tad” Meyer make remarks. Deval Patrick (from left), Drew Faust, Michael Smith, Tad Meyer, and artist Yuqi Wang unveil the painting. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Read the full article here

Being in New England, I am connected to some of the most prominent schools in the nation. As I visit peer schools — I often look at the pictures on their walls as I tour different campuses. I also notice the pictures hanging on the walls here at Brooks. Yes — most are white men. I get lucky at times and find a female. That makes me happy. But never a person of color. Recently the late great Peter Gomes’s picture was displayed in Harvard’s faculty room. What does it say to the world when there are no images of people that are not white hanging from walls? What about the fact that places have not figured out how to make people of color feel welcomed? We are not aliens. New England prep schools and Harvard will argue and make excuses. Most places will. But the truth is in the numbers. Are we not part of the club? Prep schools are easy places to feel displaced. Independent schools are this way in general. And the conservative schools will make you feel like an outsider if you are not of the population norm. Harvard has made that all too clear by just now hanging a picture of a person of color. I love the late Peter Gomes. Good for Harvard. Boy it took you long enough. What does your campus look like? Why? Why are there no people of color? Why do they leave? Do you care to know.

The Passing of a Legend

I first skimmed through James McLachlan’s book, American Boarding Schools, some 10 years ago. He was a product of such schools (Choate). A number of my students used his work in their research paper, which some addressed those boarding schools as a process of assimilating American Indians. Others discussed schools as elite enclaves as a means of exclusion and power. Regardless, I learned of his passing back in August. Here is what the AHA had to say about one of the most noted historians of American boarding schools. See what the AHA had to say about him here.

The Retired Teacher

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I most recently found myself engaged in an interesting conversation with a colleague and friend who teaches at a New England boarding school. The topic that emerged is one that I never considered: What happens to the faculty member once he/she retires? Sure, I have some time, but the extent of a faculty relationship to his or her campus once retired is an intriguing one. I realize that in most areas of employment, the worker moves on; however, I hope the climate of education and academic work never draws the same comparison; folks teach because it is not the real world, nor should it be. The real world sucks!

Though I do not have the miles under me when it comes to teaching and being a faculty member, I have witnessed over the years how some schools treat highly devoted faculty members once they decide to retire, or are forced to retire. My New England friend stated that a measure of treatment toward the retired faculty can be found on a campus at any given moment. Case in point: she mentioned to me that she desires boarding life at her school because she will be assured a place on campus once she retires; she will have access to its library, archives, athletic facilities, an office to work, and an act of involvement with decision making and mentoring new teachers.

However, it is this point that caught my attention: if your school cannot hold on to faculty members or if there is no desire for them to stay, then by time a faculty member approaches retirement, one might not know any of the surrounding faces (his or her colleagues). She went on to state that a measure of the retired faculty and its relationship with the campus can be seen in age; how often do you see older retired faculty members on campus and participating in campus life? What role does a school hold for those who are no longer actively employed, but who seek to contribute to the growth and tradition of the school?

I must confess that I have never considered any of this. I believe the topic of the “retired faculty” is one that all schools need to visit. At one of my previous schools, I watched them destroy its relationship with one of the most respected and legendary faculty members there. Its focus was on the now. There was no “sense” of tradition or legacy for the position of the “faculty member.” Though I promised I would not mention my New England friend or her school by name, she told me that her campus at one point was very cold; it operated too much like a Fortune 500 company instead of a place seeking to expand its intellectual and cultural vitality. It took their faculty senate to showcase why her campus needed to change. In the end, there has been a greater shift toward the position of being a “faculty member” rather than a mere skeleton. Thus, making retirement worth seeking.

Summer Writing Part V

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Brooks has a great library, I must say. Janette went with me to play in the Luce Library stacks for a conference presentation proposal that will consist of faculty members from some of the most elite boarding schools in the nation. Session Title: Race and Privilege at America’s Most Elite Boarding Schools. I have already read four of the works here, as well as accumulated a massive data base of scholarly articles on the topic.