By Maxine Slater
After more than six teachers left Beacon at the end of last year and with 2019 admissions yielding a freshman class of nearly five-hundred students – the largest in Beacon’s history – it is clear that our school is undergoing a rapid evolution in its staff and student populations. Many upperclassmen have found themselves displaced in the process, not only struggling with mere class enrollment as teachers seem to disappear, but also missing the feel of their familiar “old Beacon.”
Mr. Richard Miller is a tenured history teacher whose fifteen years of teaching at Beacon have earned him an esteemed reputation and exposed him to significant changes in the school’s composition. His first memories at Beacon date back to 2002, when he navigated an unfamiliar global history curriculum with a new class of freshmen. The struggle to adapt to this foreign environment was rendered all the more daunting when two students told him that history was their least favorite subject, a statement that, although brazen, was a testament to the intimate and unfiltered nature of the “old Beacon.” Mr. Miller challenged himself to change these two students’ minds by the end of his course. He succeeded with flying colors; by the end of the year, he had classified the students as two of the “strongest history devotees [he] had ever met.”
From his early years as a Beacon teacher, Mr. Miller also recalls being able to freely observe Beacon classes and alternative teaching styles. Teachers were not only enabled, but encouraged to stop in on one another’s lessons in an almost mentor-like relationship. This experience begs a complex question: how have the dynamics among students and teachers changed from “old Beacon” to today’s Beacon?
According to Mr. Miller, both forms of school intimacy have significantly waned as Beacon’s physical space and student body have grown. Students are “more college-focused,” there is “a lot more stress” as students tackle rigorous courses, and, among the staff, a bit of “collegiality” has been lost as the ability to move between classes has decreased. As Mr. Miller notes, these challenges could prove “slightly problematic” going forward, especially as Beacon continues to expand from its humble roots.
But Mr. Miller’s account of Beacon’s evolution is not solely nostalgic. He cites a few of his close co-educators as evidence that Beacon has maintained some of its staff camaraderie. He appreciates the administration for allowing him to pursue extracurricular endeavors, such as coaching girls’ tennis and advising Model UN. Emphasizing his gratitude for being able to teach such intelligent students, Mr. Miller nods to the increased ability of the Beacon student body to efficiently learn. When asked about his decision to retire and leave Beacon at the end of this school year, Mr. Miller instantly procured the word “bittersweet.” For him, there is still so much left of the school that he is proud to have partaken in.
Mr. Miller’s retirement will leave a tough void to fill, as many of his students can attest. This replacement will not stand alone in his fight to adequately fill Mr. Miller’s vacancy; instead, this teacher will join an influx of new teachers who have begun to introduce new teaching styles to the school’s historically consortium-based curriculum.
While Beacon continues to undergo dramatic change, Mr. Miller has provided a few pointers for incoming teachers as guidelines for maintaining the Beacon he has grown fond of: observe teachers of other disciplines, be reasonable with students in workload and interactions, and “figure out a way to… have fun.” Above all, he urged his future replacements not to lose sight of how joyful and rewarding their teaching experiences can be at Beacon, where students are eager to develop socially and academically.
As for his own retirement plans, Mr. Miller envisions himself out on a “speed golf” field or partaking in triathlons, both of which he describes as “taking it easy.” His most ambitious proposal is to write a mystery novel about a history teacher who solves crimes by using his historical knowledge. Of course, this will occur only after he has finished writing the dozens of college recommendations that he anticipates will be requested of him by the 2019 graduating class, the last juniors to have taken his American history course. Mr. Miller’s departure signifies yet another transition in Beacon culture and solicits the full school’s attention. We may be witnessing the evolution of Beacon in real-time like we never have before.