Professors’ Pastimes

by Sanjana Deshpande and Chloe Yu, Features Editor, Features Reporter

photos contributed by Paige Perkinson and Derek van Beever

For many teachers, teaching is far from their only passion, as many pursue lifelong hobbies ranging from art to music to Pilates.

As a children’s literature author, biology teacher Siana LaForest is one of many teachers with a unique pastime. She said that her books serve as outlets for her creative interests.

“I like the solitude of getting up really early in the morning, opening up my computer and being creative in my mind and inventing stories in my head and putting them down on the page,” she said. “It’s a very solitary pursuit, so it’s very different from teaching, which is a social pursuit.”

Spanish teacher Alexandra Van Buren said that her friends largely influenced her decision to become a Pilates teacher.

“I played a lot of sports growing up, and I had some serious injuries, so I had to do sports which had less of a physical impact on my body, so I got into Pilates. I always danced, and Pilates is like a dance type of exercise. It’s all about core and stretching,” she said. 

“One day, when my friends said that I should become an instructor, I was like, ‘that sounds like a good idea,’ so I did a certification program … and now I teach a few days a week.”

As the owner of the small business Belenky’s Sculpture and Welding, art teacher Paul Belenky said that he developed his art and teaching careers simultaneously.

“I started working as an awning maker,” he said. “It was a lot of welding and sculpture in doing that, and it gave me a lot of the skills that I need and have now to teach other people and make things for people.”

Alongside working as a public speaking and acting teacher at South, Paige Perkinson has acted in multiple regional professional productions.

“It can be a lot because professional shows expect people to rehearse for 36 hours a week, but then I’m here as well, so when I rehearsed late at night, I was working two jobs, which is a lot of time and energy,” she said. “It’s a logistical nightmare, but it’s still totally worth it to keep my acting career going because that’s what really fills my cup.”

Physics teacher Derek Van Beever is a vocalist, bass player and keyboardist in Sleepyhead, a band he formed with several other Newton teachers. Van Beever said he uses his love for music as a vehicle to connect with students who share his passion.

“If they show that they’re interested in music, I try to learn about what they’re interested in and have a conversation with other people who are passionate about music,” he said. “I love talking about music.”

Van Buren said that while she enjoys teaching Pilates, the reward of watching students grow throughout the year in her Spanish classes is unmatched.

“I like teaching Pilates, but it gets a little repetitive, whereas I feel like we’re working on different things up here in Spanish, and there’s a lot of progress that students make.” she said. “People do make a lot of progress in Pilates, but I see a lot of new people constantly, so you’re not seeing that same arc of progression that I see with my Spanish students here.”

Perkinson said that while balancing her two lives comes with challenges, she gets the best of both worlds by doing what she loves in and out of the classroom.

“The way that you get to a fulfilling life is to make your life’s goal general enough that it will satisfy you. My life’s goal is to have a life in theater,” she said. “If I were always on stage, that would be nice, but I’m satisfied and I’m happy because I attained this goal. I have the goal that I set out for myself by having a life in the theater and getting to make theater every day all the time.”