Faculty Speaking: Faculty Shares Insights with Community
Have you ever seen a teacher outside of school? For some, the encounter is boggling. It is difficult for some students to realize that teachers have lives outside of the classroom. This disconnect comes from the strict divide, whether it be intentional or unintentional, between students and teachers. One of the many steps that the administration has taken to remedy this is the Faculty Speaker Program.
The faculty speaker program provides members of the Packer faculty and staff with a chance to give a speech to the entire Upper School community during Community Meeting. Alison Bishop, Dean of Student Life and a Community Meeting Committee advisor, said that late last year the committee began to brainstorm ways to better Community Meeting.
“[We had] been thinking about ways for our faculty to connect with students non-academically, just as the wonderful people that they are,” she said, leading the group to come up with the faculty speaker program.
A member of the Community Meeting Committee, Nina Houston (‘19), stated that the program furthers Community Meeting’s goal of being “a place to get to know your community better and showcase people’s interests and passions,” said Nina Houston (‘19), a member of the Community Meeting Committee. “Not only for students, but for the faculty as well by giving [the faculty] a chance to share parts of themselves that they would not normally be able to share.”
The program was off to a great start with its first speaker, Class of 2022 Dean Michael Barbaro. As a former chaplain with plenty of experience speaking in front of large crowds, he was the perfect selection. However, even his extensive background in public speaking could not prepare him for this speech.
“It brings you back to when you’re in high school yourself.” Mr. Barbaro said. “There was a moment where I was transformed into my sixteen-year-old self thinking, ‘what am I doing?’” Those nerves were not witnessed by members of Upper School as they intently listened Mr. Barbaro make an inspirational speech about his experiences being gay in high school.
As for the goal of his speech, he explained, “If I was able to reach out and touch at least one kid in the audience who may be struggling with whether or not they are gay, or if I was able to inspire or instill some hope in a student who is dealing with their own closet, it is all worth it for me.”
The reaction from the community as a whole was overwhelmingly positive. Ruby Kopel (‘20) found “it was great to hear a voice from the LGBTQ community. It probably made people feel less alone.”
Avery Gilbert-Goldstein (‘22) also found the speech very powerful: “He gave a voice to a lot of the students that are in the LGBTQ community, those who have come out and those who haven’t, and it is important for all those people to know that they are safe at Packer, and he is doing a really good job at showing that… It shows all students that they can come out and speak and that they can show a side of themselves that they wouldn’t otherwise”
Among the faculty, Ms. Bishop reported the response has been “nothing but positive. From faculty, everyone thinks that, ‘oh my gosh that was so good, but I can’t do that.’” The members of the Community Meeting Committee understand some teachers’ apprehensions in speaking as part of the program, and fully respect that choice.
“I think some teachers won’t [speak] and that’s fine,” said Nina. “The program is for who is comfortable and who wants to do it.”
Mr. Barbaro understands teachers’ apprehensions as well: “Everyone has different comfort levels with what they want to share, this is not something that is for everyone.”
There are clearly many ways for teachers to connect with students beyond speaking to the entire Upper School. However, for those who will be faculty speakers, many believe that the sharing of stories will bring the community closer together.
“I think when students feel like they see a different side of the faculty, it just creates a better community because then we feel connected to each other in a different way,” explained Mr. Barbaro.
Above all else, the program gives the faculty and administration the opportunity to practice what they preach.
As Ms. Bishop said, “We ask students all the time to be vulnerable and talk about their stories and I think there is something about having grown-ups model that too.”