By Tali Lebowitsch
Photos By Adrian Flynn
His name may sound familiar from the countless emails you received in your inbox at the beginning of the year. He may have been the one who saved you from taking that A.P. physics class you knew you couldn’t handle, or transferred you into the art class you have always wanted to take. Perhaps he is your beloved English teacher, trusted advisor, or close confidant. Regardless, in only two years, Ben August has become a fundamental member of the Beacon Community. Whether you have ever had personal contact with him or not, you can be assured that he has put in maximum effort to ensure that you personally have a Beacon experience that fulfills the requirements while simultaneously accommodating your personal interests.
But who is the man behind the name? What really goes into organizing the schedules for the entire student body? How does one balance a crucial administrative task, while remaining accessible and dedicated teacher? What are the potential downsides to being so committed and passionate about a job that can be incredibly draining? These were all questions that I had in mind when I had the privilege to sit down with Ben August to discuss his new administrative role.
Before discussing the nuts and bolts of August’s new role, I wanted to begin by getting to know a little bit about his past before he came to Beacon. August grew up in the South Eastern district of Melbourne in Australia. August said he “has always liked to think of himself as an artistic person.” He continued, “Before being a teacher I was a photographer which is how I put myself through college.” Yet, August has never felt confined to one role. He said, “I’m a person who has a lot of different sides . . . I’ve never been able to settle on something that was my ‘thing.’” However, August has always felt drawn to coding and building intricate systems, stating, “Computer coding is something I enjoy doing, pulling together pieces of information to make something novel.”
Therefore, when presented with the opportunity to become the coder for Beacon, he jumped at the chance. His official title is Chair of Programming, “which is probably the most interesting but least talked about job in a school!” When describing his job, August says, “Every school has to have someone like me who is putting the pieces together, which is really fascinating because you have to learn everything about what everybody needs and then do the huge puzzle to make sure people have what they are supposed to have. There aren’t many jobs that are more challenging that happen all at once with more real deadlines.” Despite the hard work, August finds his job “really fulfilling, because it is so obvious how meaningful and useful it is for people. I find programming really rewarding because you put in a lot of effort and do your best and then you start again and get to do better the next time.” He continued, “I guess I’m sort of just obsessed with my job!”
Nonetheless, there have been many challenges that have arisen as a result of such a demanding job. When asked the most difficult part, August says that is has been “creating a system that makes the most sense to students and gets them really good changes really quickly.” When it comes to making schedule changes, “Communicating about those things with students is enormously challenging especially for the first year, and I just hope it gets easier and as people get used to it.”
Additionally, his new role has lead to personal sacrifices when it comes to balancing his new job with his original one, the job of an english teacher. He prefaced, “I think my seniors would tell you I dont balance it as well as I would like.” However, August maintains that his priority first and foremost is to remain accessible to his students. “I definitely try to make sure my students come first. My job is to be a teacher first, then support the school in any way I can.” He continued, “There’s a big cost to coming into a programming position, it becomes a distraction from the important things in the classroom. It’s something I struggle with, but it’s really important to me that students in my class have a good experience.” For August, when it comes to balance it means “carving out intentional time, forcing myself to make sure that I take care of the important things before the urgent things.” Yet, August emphasized the value of having administrators who also have teaching roles. He explained, “one of the best things about our school is that the administration teach,” which he emphasized as important because “it keeps our behind the scenes work connected to students and what they really care about.”
Overall, August describes his new responsibilities as one large learning experience. For August, whose first priority is that students have a “quality learning experience,” it has been about learning to operate “all these cigs and wheels that are behind the scenes that people don’t even know are there. When asked about what the most important lesson he’s learned, he answered that it has been about creating a system that makes it most convenient for all involved. He says, “Whenever possible, instead of creating work for other people, you should just abstract it away. There’s no reason for teachers and students to have to do all this superfluous paperwork that will distract them from learning if there is a system or programming that will do it for them.” He finished by saying: “it’s nice to save people from doing things that are really just a distraction!”
To conclude our interview, I wanted August to share his direct advice to students in order to ensure they have the most fulfilling learning experience available to them. For August, the most valuable action a student could take to make the scheduling process as efficient as possible is planning ahead. He states, “If you plan out your courses and maintain that plan and take responsibility for it that means when we ask for your preferences you can put it in as early as you can.” One of the most challenging parts of his job is that “Students don’t do the planning or thinking ahead that a system as complicated and dynamic as ours really requires.” He concludes, “the last thing I want to do is cut down on student choice,” and finished by saying “The more that we can cut down on the last minute attempts to change from one thing to another, the more smooth the experiences for all students will be.”