Some weeks ago, One Thing after Another received a friendly note from alum Bernie Stedman ’08 who now teaches history at his alma mater, Boston College High School. As is often the case, this blog could not let Stedman get away without an interview, especially after it reviewed his Rate My Teachers ratings. Stedman kindly acquiesced, and what follows is the result.
Q: One Thing after Another recalls that you were simply a history major as an undergraduate and that you were not involved in the secondary education program at Saint Anselm College. Were you always interested in teaching, or did you head in that direction after graduation? In other words, how did you become a teacher?
A: I can say that I knew I wanted to become a teacher pretty early in my freshman year. I had always entertained the idea, as my mother, uncle, and grandfather were all teachers and, obviously, the notion of summers off was tremendously appealing! But I would say that during my freshman year I experienced a confluence of finding a strong interest in studying history as well as feeling the pull towards a career in teaching. However, I found that pursuing education classes would diminish my experience in history, so I chose to fully invest myself in a history major and take some education courses when I could spare the time.
Q: Boston College High School is a prestigious institution. How did you position yourself to obtain a job there?
A: I count myself blessed to be a part of Boston College High School. Obviously, I feel that my being an alumnus of the school had a great deal to do with my being able to secure an interview for the job opening, but I also benefited from having been a history major. Since BC High is a college preparatory school, it often focuses on finding candidates who majored in the field they teach and who have had at least some experience in the classroom. Fortunately, I had been a substitute teacher in the Quincy public school system for a couple of years, so I had both the degree and the classroom experience. In addition to that, I had been coaching football and basketball during my time as a sub. Many educators view coaching as an extension of the classroom, and in this particular case I believe the school was looking for someone with experience in both coaching and teaching.
Q: In the school directory, you are listed as a Social Studies teacher, but you got in touch with our department because you are teaching a new course on World War II. What does your teaching rotation look like? What is your favorite class to teach?
A: At BC High, teachers have a lighter course load (four total classes) than most school teachers who typically have five classes. This year, I am teaching a senior elective on WWII, two sections of US History AP (which consists mostly of juniors), and one section of freshman world history. I generally ask to have three different classes because I enjoy having students in different class years. My favorite class to teach is US History AP because I have always been partial to that field, and the course is made up of high-achieving students who are very committed to doing well. This dynamic affords me the opportunity to teach it as a college-level course and put a particular emphasis on the material itself. This was the environment I experienced at Saint Anselm College, and it’s why I loved studying history.
Q: One Thing after Another’s sources, which are omniscient and omnipresent, indicate that you coach football for Boston College High School. Coaching is a form of teaching; do you find much crossover between instructing students in the classroom and on the football field?
A: I take great joy in coaching football for many of the same reasons that I enjoy teaching US History AP. It is most definitely an extension of the classroom and a form of teaching. And, like US History AP, it is full of kids who are devoted, and willing to work hard and learn. That creates an atmosphere that cultivates strong bonds between you and your students, which is the basis of good teaching. One of the challenges of coaching football is to stress the importance of the teaching dynamic in such a highly competitive environment. Many coaches are not teachers by trade and so it is all the more important to be a classroom teacher on the field in order to maintain the culture and identity of the school. This is a challenge and a task I take very seriously and enjoy very much.
Q: To what extent do you believe your liberal arts education and your major in History helped prepare you for your current position?
A: I would not be in my current position without my liberal arts education. All of the abilities I possess that make me an effective teacher I owe to my education. The ability to think critically, analyze material, engage in discourse, and see situations from different perspectives are skills that my liberal arts education honed for me. I always try to put these at the forefront of my teaching because these are paramount. This is what I try to impart to my students more than details and material from class, because I feel that without the ability to think, write, and speak, knowledge of history, literature, or religion would be useless.
Q: According to Rate My Teachers (yes, we have stooped so low as to check that site), your students think the world of you, and in their inimitable way, their comments indicate that you are hilarious in the classroom. Why do you think you’ve made such an impression on your students?
A: When I teach, I always try to remember the teachers who made me want to be a teacher, and I simply try to emulate them in my own way. At the risk of embarrassing Professor Dubrulle, he was one of my primary inspirations. I always admired the way he was able to incorporate who he was into the material he taught, so whenever I took one of his classes, it felt like something other than a professor conveying material. There was always a richness to lectures because it was obvious that he loved what he studied and what he taught. I try to be the same way in my classroom. I try to incorporate who I am into what I teach so that the subject matter and the exercise of studying history can be more rewarding for both me and my students. I always try to remember the sage advice a teacher gave me: if you are not having fun and sharing a few laughs every now and again, then all you have is history, and most teenagers don’t want that.