Mr. Gee puts down roots

Posted by ngee - 30 January, 2013

New Orleans transplant Nathaniel Gee puts down roots in Huntsville

I was teaching English at Isidore Newman, in New Orleans, when I heard about the opening at Randolph. My first step was to check out Randolph’s website, and that was my first surprise.

Randolph’s Academics page emphasizes character and academic challenge. The School's perspective on these concepts is unique and profound:

"Solitude spurs creativity and self-discovery,”

“Self-reflection and independent thinking are essential to develop the courage of one’s convictions; All knowledge is connected; The world needs shared sacrifice to address the challenges of today and tomorrow,” and,

“The purpose of education is to make the world a better place for generations to come.”

I was looking for a school interested in meeting the challenges of 21st century teaching on its own terms, but I was a little surprised to find it in Alabama.

I wondered if this was just an onscreen utopia, but my first few conversations with Upper School Head Brent Bell and the Head of School Byron Hulsey showed that the school leadership was committed to a deeply philosophical, reflective, and progressive school culture.

When I arrived at Randolph for my interview, these conversations continued as I discussed the curriculum with English Chair Lewis Cobbs. Randolph’s curriculum balances the canon with the avant-garde; you might find Shakespeare being taught alongside graphic novels. Several classrooms have large, wooden Harkness tables, perfect for an exchange of ideas and intense debates about literature, writing, and philosophy.

I was particularly impressed by Randolph’s senior Capstone program. I sat in on student presentations analyzing art and music and presenting original compositions within an historical context. The students I spoke with were eager to talk about books, philosophy, and science, particularly where these concepts converge.

Then I taught three poems to a group of 11th graders. Teaching demonstrations are always awkward, but these kids ignored my newness and jumped right in, dissecting the poems and debating interpretations. Their eagerness and passion thrilled me, and the session ended too quickly. We kept talking right through the bell until we were all out of breath.

Since coming to Randolph, I get to teach these thrilling classes every day. I’ve added my own ideas to the curriculum, teaching The Hobbit, and The Poisonwood Bible alongside Siddhartha, Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies. My students frequently challenge my interpretations just as well as they challenge each other.

Professional development, faculty meetings, and even student assemblies are always enriching and philosophical. A common refrain among my colleagues is to “make sure that students know that there is a bigger world out there.” The School’s motto is “Seeking truth, building character, and nurturing all,” and teachers are given plenty of support and flexibility as we seek to achieve those goals. The ambition and intellectual rigor of the academic setting here is balanced by calm reflection. I think Dr. Hulsey says it best when he says our goal here is making sure every child is “Known, challenged, and loved.”

After living in New Orleans for more than a decade, I was a little worried about moving here, but I am quite happy with the decision. The Tennessee Valley is beautiful. There are hiking trails five minutes from my front door.

I found a comfortable home at an affordable price with a nice view of the mountains, a giant pecan tree and a grand backyard for my dog. There are museums, fine restaurants, a beautiful botanical garden, and many other attractions that I have barely begun to explore.

I have so much more room as a professional and a person here in Huntsville. Even though I miss the chaos of a big city sometimes, the long hikes, big gardens, and well-stocked farmer’s markets more than make up for it.

I’m even laying the foundations for a student-run garden. The students are excited about this new project, and so am I. We plan to compost organic waste from the cafeteria, grow our own food and herbs and then serve the harvest in the cafeteria. There are plenty of young engineers to give advice on the construction of raised beds, young farmers to plan the planting, and young idealists to make sure it all comes out with a sense of beauty.

I encourage you to explore career opportunities at Randolph and the way of life here in the Tennessee Valley. My move here has been very rewarding. The school is confident, philosophical, and ambitious, and Huntsville is comfortable, stimulating, and affordable. It’s a good balance and I hope to put down roots here and be a part of this community for a long time.

If you are interested in learning more about working at Randolph, please visit our website, Information and current openings are listed on our Employment page, under the About tab.


Topics: Academics, curriculum, English, Huntsville, teachers, Upper School

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