By Phoebe Kamber
The start of this school year was more hectic than usual for the students and teachers at Beacon. The transition from waking up at 2pm in the afternoon, knowing there is no place you need to be anytime soon, to sitting in a classroom from 8am to 2:20pm, can be a tough one. This year, many of the teachers whom students usually count on to make that transition easier were absent at the time we needed them most. Sean Leon, who teaches sophomore English and 12th grade Existentialism and Poetry, was among these missing teachers. However, his was a unique case in that he was supposed to arrive slightly later in the school year due to urgent family matters. Many students remained optimistic that they would get to see their favorite teacher again soon. Yet for the first few weeks of school, Mr. Leon’s return was repeatedly delayed until finally, it was announced that he would not be returning for this school year at all.
While many were left mourning the permanent absence of a teacher often described as life-changing, one question remained: Who would our new English teacher be? The school year was already in full swing. How would Mr. Leon’s students catch up to everyone who had started their curriculum on time?
A week later, we were introduced to our new teacher, Mr. Ben August. Given that Ms. Lacey, our Principal, had limited time to find a replacement, it is fair to say that most of us had our doubts about the kind of teacher she would recruit. However, after interviewing and getting to know Mr. August, those doubts have subsided. His nonconformist, creative views on teaching have offered him a smooth transition into the artistic Beacon atmosphere. He has learned to teach a multitude of subjects, including Psychology, English, Theater, and Science, following his belief that subjects should not remain strictly divided, but are rather meant to be interdisciplinary. Many Beacon teachers hope to utilize such a range of skills, so hearing this method of teaching was comforting coming from a new hire. Additionally, Mr. August’s artistic side is expressed through his love of cheap comedy theater and his unique passion for sign language.
Part of the reason he has fit in so well is his Australian background. There, Mr. August says, schools are similar to Beacon in having more freedom over what their students learn. Since moving to New York in 2013, Mr. August has worked at several other schools, which he noticed were more controlled and lacked room for creative expression. He explains how the mindset of Beacon students is similar to that of many Australian students. Mr. August feels that since students are given more freedom, they show up to class more focused and eager to learn. He strives to deepen students’ interest in course material through engaging teaching methods, pulling from his different areas of expertise. After hearing him talk about teaching in this way, getting lost in his own passion for his students, my confidence in Ms. Lacey’s choice grew.
However, as would be expected for a new teacher, there have been some growing pains with this rushed transition. The problem that most of his students have expressed is that he is not quite used to students with the level of maturity or intelligence typical at Beacon. While not stated directly, Mr. August has mentioned his surprise at the focus his students have shown in his class, which encourages him to develop a strong and engaging curriculum.
After discussing the various areas of school and teaching with our new hire, I was curious as to how he’s been fitting in as a New Yorker. Interestingly enough, Mr. August lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. After watching the show “Gossip Girl” – a Beacon favorite – Mr. August thought that the Upper East Side would be the most safe and engaging place to live. Still, he misses aspects of his old life in Australia – particularly, a small dumpling place that he used to go to with his friend in college after long study sessions. Many of us Beacon students can relate; we have our own go-to diners and pizza shops that give us the same sense of comfort and home.
Ben August was hired this year to fill an unexpected opening in the school faculty, yet he has far exceeded the role of a mere replacement. Already, he has begun to carve out his own niche at Beacon.