by Andrew Barber
Every Wednesday night, around midnight, I take a walk from Hegeman boys’ dorm to my apartment. It is a simple pleasure, a four minute stroll at most, but one that I treasure deeply. After a day of teaching, required meals, after-school supervising, and dorm duty, I am finally able to close the door on my longest day of the week and spend a moment with God, myself, and a clear sky. No matter how well I have performed as a teacher, father, husband, and/or mentor, this walk is always graciously waiting for me. Mini-sacraments like this keep me going, moments that are also uniquely sweeter because they happen within the grinding, infinitely-rewarding academic year at The Stony Brook School.
My name is Andrew Barber and I am a first year teacher and dorm dad at The Stony Brook School. I am also a husband (to Jessica, SBS alum), and new father (Murray, 9 months). I recognize that writing first year reflections on the official Stony Brook blog may lead to accusations of disingenuousness (I want to continue getting paid as much as the next guy), so I will lead off with a criticism and hopefully you will see how objective and level-headed I am. Criticism: I’m no basketball whiz or anything, but it is this amateur’s opinion that the faculty basketball games have been rigged. Statistically, I should win way more frequently.
Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me move on to some greener pastures. If I could only choose two things to quickly summarize the Stony Brook experience, it would be the faculty and the students.
The faculty are what brought me here in the first place. I was in seminary, set on a track for pastoral ministry, when I visited SBS with my wife. Within only a couple of days, I was able to tell that the faculty were very passionate about their faith, their students, and their field of study. A combination of all three is incredibly rare and incredibly attractive. By the time I left Long Island, I had a new career goal.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been astounded by the care and diligence of our faculty. I frequently hear teachers talking about contacting past students, setting current students up with good counselors, talking with parents, praying, etc. I have been in places where the employees speak very negatively about the students in their care. It is an easy thing to become self-righteous when you have power. These teachers never talk that way about their students or each other. They are driven by their faith to love with humility.
They are also driven by their faith to be great teachers and to master their craft. Just being around them makes you want to be more innovative than you were yesterday.
First-Year Teaching Aside: It can be a beautifully terrifying thing to teach a great curriculum full of landmark texts. Beautiful, because the texts are so powerful and historically important. Terrifying, because a) you know, deep down, that Macbeth deserves to be interpreted by a genius (or at least someone who accurately remembers the 5th act) and that b) you are not a genius (and you are still a little shaky on that 5th act). You know those stories of rookie archaeologists who destroyed some precious artifact through inexperience? Precious Artifact = Macbeth. Rookie Archaeologist = Yours Truly. It can be painful to consider that for many of my students, this year was the one and only time they will ever excavate Macbeth. They deserved a master archaeologist, not a bumbling newbie and cracked treasures.
But there were moments that allowed me some vision of what it could be like to master the craft. These moments were born out of conversations with and observations of a faculty who love their curriculum and love teaching it. They want to succeed, they want me to succeed, and they make me a better teacher.
If you are a student of mine and you are reading this, you are either desperately hoping for a shout-out or looking to get some brownie points. I’m afraid I don’t like brownies very much and I’m not going to give any individual shout-outs, so you can go back to your homework now (I’m looking at you, Paul).
If you aren’t a student at SBS, there are a few things you may not know. Firstly, our student population is insanely diverse. I have no idea how our history teachers do it – I literally had to discipline a student this year for sarcastically mentioning the murder of a powerful figure in the history of another country. This student was discussing it abstractly but, since we are at Stony Brook, there was actually a relative of this historical person sitting in the class two rows away from him. If you see it in the international news, more likely than not it affects some student on campus. Like everything at SBS, this diversity is both terrifying and a massive opportunity. I prefer to focus on the latter.
Secondly, our student population is eager, respectful, and just really likable. Case in point: I now have a deep love for many people who also happen to be 7th and 8th graders. Those are not words I ever thought I would say.
Lastly, they are capable of far more than they know. They are capable of far more thanI know. I once called in a teacher to observe an oration face-off between myself and another student (an 8th grader). Guess who legitimately won the face-off?
There is a true sense of breathing rarified air at Stony Brook. Not just because we send a bunch of kids to prestigious colleges. That happens in lots of places. It is the combination of true, raw academic ambition with deep, orthodox faith and love for students. Stony Brook lives out the ideal attempted so many years ago by schools like Yale and Harvard – an ideal that they have not been able to maintain. The miracle of SBS is that, for 93 years, the names of the faculty may have changed, but the One behind them has not. Stony Brook employees have been the hands and feet of Christ for many years and, I pray, for many more to come. I am honored to be counted among them.