by Lynn Kim and Chloe Yu, Features Reporters, Emma Zhang, Features Editor
This is 2010 graduate Paul Belenky’s second year teaching three-dimensional art. Having been a part of the school community for so long, Belenky said he is reminded of his own high school experiences through his students.
“It’s exciting to hear kids having the same situations, like being excited about the same things I used to be excited about and dreading the same things I used to dread,” he said. “It’s funny how some of those things haven’t changed, and it’s gratifying to support kids and share my knowledge and sentiment.”
Having noticed similarities between himself and his students, Belenky said that he wonders if the cycle of students returning to South as teachers will also continue.
“I see students who are doing the same things I was doing and thinking about where it would take them,” he said. “It’s funny to think that perhaps in 30 years when I’m old and retired, someone I teach will take over.”
English teacher Deborah Bernhard graduated in 2007 and has been teaching at South for the past eight years. She said that although her teaching aspirations seemed far-fetched at first, all the pieces fell into place eventually.
“Even as a student, I thought it would be nice to teach at South,” she said. “I didn’t know it would actually end up happening.”
Bernhard said that in addition to a changed schedule and improved lunch since her time as a student, technology has also become a more integral part of the school.
“We didn’t have smartphones, and it was extremely rare for a student to have their own computer in class,” she said.
She said that coming back years later, she has noticed a shift in the academic environment.
“I see different things as a teacher,” she said. “When I was younger, I wasn’t so fixated on grades, but as a teacher, I see an extremely competitive culture.”
After graduating in 1992, Jeremiah Hill came back to teach English at South, a job that he said is both meaningful and a culmination of his passions.
“I wanted to do work that had value. I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle and move papers from one side of the desk to the other,” he said. “I love literature and I love language, so I put those two things together.”
He said his passion for English stemmed from his high school teachers.
“I had a lot of great English teachers here,” he said. “I loved AP Literature, [so now] I love and teach English.”
As high school is a time for self-discovery, Hill said the best part about being a teacher is helping students with that journey.
“[I enjoy] seeing students go out and develop their own identities and do something they think is important,” he said. “I’m very proud to be involved in some sort of way.”
Marcia Okun graduated in 1979 and has been teaching various grade levels and history courses at South for the past 25 years. She said that among her many high school memories, the one that stood out the most was the snowstorm and its aftermath in her junior year.
“We had so many snow storms and snow days that we had to have six weeks of extended days where school started at 7:30 a.m. and ended around 3:45 p.m.,” she said.
Okun said that she is grateful for the relaxed and nurturing academic environment she had as a high schooler, one she said has become noticeably more competitive in the past years.
“When I was at South, there wasn’t the pressure I see now as a teacher to do everything. It was more that people found their passions and dived deep into them,” she said. “At the time, I was allowed to deep-dive into my passions and follow them, which I continued to do until I came back.”
Dan Rubin from the graduating class of 1996 has been the director of guidance for the past seven years. He said that upon coming back as a staff member, the change in dynamic took some getting used to.
“At the time, my perspective of South was colored by the fact that I had been a student here,” he said. “I came back and worked here in a context where I didn’t necessarily identify as well with the faculty because I was a young kid when I [interacted with them last]”.
Rubin said that the school not only changed his outlook on life, but it also played a fundamental role in who he is today.
“I am not necessarily proud of all of my behaviors from high school, but South gave me the foundation to grow and become the person I am today,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable community with all of its gifts and quirks, and we need to do a better job of shining a spotlight on all of it.”
Tim Te graduated in 2007 and joined South this year as a chemistry teacher. He said that one of the most notable experiences from his high school experience was participating in the Beijing Jingshan student exchange in his senior year.
“I took Chinese when I was here at South and hosted a student from China, so that impacted my life a lot,” he said.
Te said some of his teachers, including his Chinese teacher, are now his colleagues — he had Joseph Golding, Rachael McNally and Lan Lan Chen for English, history and Chinese, respectively. In the same way his teachers supported him, Te said he hopes to pay it forward with his current students.
“I had a couple of teachers who really helped me through some difficult circumstances when I was in high school, and that made a big impression on me,” he said. “One of my hopes is that I can help a few students and support them in the same way.”