HEAD OF SCHOOL
Founder of VDA
Tell me a little about your personal and educational background.
I was born in Texas, my father’s home turf, where I lived through 6th grade. Then I moved to New York, where my mother grew up, and it was there that I spent my junior high and high school years. I like to think both worlds, and both sides of my family, are reflected in me - and in VanDamme Academy. From my East Coast family I learned a respect for old-world dignity. From the Southerners, I learned to take pride in being “the tightest hugger in Texas.” And from both, I learned to deeply value education. Dignity, warmth, and reverence for education are all qualities that characterize this school.
When and why did you decide to become a teacher?
I went to college with no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, and no family pressure to decide. In the first semester of my freshman year, I took a philosophy class, and that was that - I declared my major in philosophy immediately. I loved the grand-scale, broadly-integrating perspective that philosophy took on the world. For a time, I thought I would seek a PhD in philosophy so that I could teach at the college level. But the more time I spent philosophy departments, the more disillusioned I became. I was interested in the big questions for the practical, real-life answers they would provide; instead, those questions were being treated like pointless, ivory tower, intellectual games. So, I decided to become a literature teacher, thinking I would be able to teach the material of philosophy through literature. That is exactly what I do.
If you specialize in a particular subject area, why did you choose that specialty?
I teach literature because I love being witness to the power of books to expand a child’s spiritual horizons. Having read dozens and dozens of high quality books with grand ideas, inspirational characters, psychological insights, and experiences utterly outside the ordinary and everyday, our students develop a thoughtfulness and wisdom unique to those who read great literature. From Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” to Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac,” to Hugo’s “Ninety-Three” and more, I have settled upon a list of works that I think are positively soul-forming, and that my students love. I never tire of teaching them, and of seeing, again and again, their lasting impact.
Do you have any favorite stories about your teaching experience?
I love what I do so much that I feel like I have a new favorite experience every week. I love when my students continue their own discussion of the book after class has ended. I love when they ask to keep their copy of the book as a memento or because they are going to make a family member read it too. I love when they are moved to tears by something we read. I love when the make insightful connections among disparate works. One of my favorite experiences of all was receiving a letter from a graduate, in which he beautifully expressed a thought not uncommon to VanDamme Academy students: “I could not be who I am, and I am proud of who I am, without you. Literature has given me a new sense of individual identity and self-worth. For all of this, I cannot thank you enough.”
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love traveling to England, and I lead student trips to Europe in the summer. I read a lot, and I have developed a passionate interest in learning about and helping to expose the profound suffering under communist dictatorships. Most of all, I love spending time with my amazing family.
Do you have children of your own?
I’ll say! Sometimes I say I have four children, and sometimes, because they are so far apart in age, I say that I had two children twice. They are a daily source of joy, inspiration, and entertainment. Two have graduated from VanDamme Academy, and they treasure the experiences and the education they received. The other two will soon be starting their own VanDamme Academy journey.
Is there anything else you think parents or prospective parents should know about you?
I love my job. I call VanDamme Academy my “cultural oasis,” because whatever frustrations or disappointments I might have with the world around me, they vanish when I walk through the school’s doors. It is a beautiful place to be, and I am grateful for it every day.