Taking Middle Schoolers into NYC for a field trip

I’ve been teaching English for thirteen years now. Six of those have been teaching seventh grade English at The Stony Brook School, a day and boarding school.

Before coming to this place, I knew very little about boarding schools. I didn’t know anyone who went to one until college. And that person was a missionary kid. I assumed they existed for families who lived abroad.

Learning to live in this community has been an adjustment for me. At times, the learning curve steep. Even after seven years, I can still chafe at the all-encompassing nature of my work. But, for all its challenges, I’ve grown to love the rhythms (a boarding school “word” if there ever was one) of this place where I work and live.

If you have ever wondered about boarding school life, this is for you—an inside look.

Normally, my Mondays begin with my first writing class at 8 am. However, this semester, most Mondays are mini-course days, which means regular classes don’t meet. Students take elective courses instead. During the fall, regular classes and routines suspended for a week to become a “mini-course week.” We had two sessions like this. Now, during the spring semester, we have mini-course Mondays. Each five-week session is spread over five consecutive Mondays.

If it is a “normal” Monday, I teach all four of my classes, each one lasting forty minutes. My two writing classes meet the first two periods and then I have a chunk of time before my afternoon literature classes. I love this schedule because I have a break in the middle of the day to grade, plan, and attend any meetings.

For this session, my mini course meets in the afternoon, which means my mornings are free. I love the slower pace to the start of my week. The last two Mondays have given me extra planning time, along with a chance to linger a bit over my coffee. I also have time to workout in the morning, which I prefer. My course meets from 12:35-2:35 pm followed by a school-wide assembly.

3:20-6:15 pm– “Free time,” unless I have a meeting or other obligation. I don’t have a set routine for how I spend these hours before dinner. Sometimes I run errands. Other times, I complete jobs around the house or work on school stuff. Sometimes I crash in front of the TV and watch HGTV. I wish I could say I regularly carve out time to write, but I don’t.

6:15-7:00 pm–Dinner in the dining hall, Monday–Thursday nights, unless I am on dorm duty for the weekend. In that case, I don’t have to be at dinner Tuesday–Thursday nights because I will eat in the dining hall for the weekend meals. Staying with me so far?

7:30-10:00 pm–Here’s where my evening schedule changes based on what day of the week it is.

If it is a Monday or Wednesday night, my main focus is preparing for my four, 90-minute block classes I will teach the next day. Once 8 am rolls around, my day is non-stop. If it is a Tuesday, my day extends into the evening with dorm duty from 7:45-11 pm. During the fall, these days were especially long and tiring. I taught my classes, ran to cross country practice or a meet (pun intended), and ended the day with dorm duty. Whew!

The week before the cross-country Counties the team wears something different to practice each day. Crazy sock day is a favorite.

If it is a Thursday night, I congratulate myself for making it through another week of teaching. On these evenings, I find I’m not up for much more than Netflix watching.

When I first learned of my schedule this year, I was excited about not having any classes on Wednesday or Fridays. While I enjoy the freedom of flexibility of these days, I didn’t realize how drained I would feel from the previous day’s activities, especially on Wednesdays. I often tell people I spend half of my “free” day stumbling around my house while I figure out what I need to do.

Of course, scattered throughout my week are the once-a-month faculty meetings after dinner, lunch and/or coffee dates with friends, colleagues, and students, attending sporting events or performances, along with the normal tasks associated with everyday living.

Perhaps the weirdest part of my job for an outsider to understand is that the weekend is never completely free for at least some faculty. After all, the students live here. This year, the school created weekend duty teams to oversee the various campus activities and trips in addition to covering the weekend dorm duty. One of my responsibilities is dorm duty, which means I serve one night during the week (Tuesday nights) and every fifth weekend in the dorm. When it is my duty weekend, I am “on.” I attend all meals in the dining hall and cover the dorm from 8 pm-12 am Friday and Saturday nights. I also attend the Sunday chapel service. Yes, it makes for a full weekend, but it also means on the weekends I am not on duty, I don’t have weekend obligations. Of course, there may be the one-off commitment, but this change has been a welcome one among the faculty. It has made it possible for Brad and me to attend our church more regularly during the school year and it also means we can take off for a weekend if we so desire.

If you are tired after reading this, welcome to the club. Boarding school life is not for everyone. In fact, one of the best words to describe this type of work is calling. In the first month or so of our time at Stony Brook, I remember a poignant conversation I had with a now-retired faculty member. He told me that  when it comes to boarding school life you have to recognize that your time is not your own. This was (and still is) hard for me to accept at times. I want to draw hard and fast boundary lines. After a particularly intense week or stretch, I want to shout, “No more. It’s too much.”

But there is a richness and beauty to my life because of my work here. I walk alongside my students and others in this community in ways I never did when I taught at a day school. I celebrate successes and grieve losses. I cheer and encourage and chastise and bemoan, and the list continues.

On my best days, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I’m grateful that Brad and I share this work together and that our children were a part of this community too. I’m grateful for Frank E. Gaebelein and the many others who envisioned a Christian, college-preparatory day and boarding school almost 100 years ago. I’m grateful that the world comes to my doorstep. I’m grateful for the small part I play in this larger adventure called boarding school.

Treasured moments with friends are one the best parts of this community.


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