"Our students are comfortable advocating for themselves, they are comfortable speaking with those in positions of authority, they are open to others and are willing to engage with divergent ideas."
Steve Hilsabeck - Upper School Social Studies
Master of Arts in Teaching, Beloit College
Bachelor of Arts, Beloit College
12 of Years at Elgin Academy
Having taught for many years at a much larger, public school before coming to Elgin Academy, how do the two experiences differ, how are they similar?
One difference I've experienced is that at a large, comprehensive public school a student may be able to maximize his/her experience in a very specific field or interest. When a school has an orchestra program with hundreds of students, many of whom have played for years, you can be pretty sure that it would be hard to find a better one somewhere else. The same for, let's say, Debate or a particular sport. Often times in larger public schools with highly competitive programs, the demands and expectations and demands on student time for these specific programs are very high. It's difficult for students to do many things at that level without burning out quickly. Students can be like ping pong balls bouncing from one set of demands to another.On the other hand, a school like Elgin Academy optimizes the whole experience for student. At the Academy, we know almost all of the students, we know what they're involved in, what commitments they have and, as a consequence, can flex and adapt so that our students land more softly rather than bouncing around. Our students' multiple commitments certainly pull them in different directions but that happens in an environment of mutual support and encouragement – playing a sport but also appearing in a play, for example.
What clubs or sports have you sponsored while at EA?How do you see these activities as beneficial to EA students?
National Honor Society, Baking Club (aka Dough Gooders), Mock Trial & Gavel.
While there might be a big difference between baking a cake and tutoring a Middle Schooler, between making an opening statement before an actual judge and taking a risk to share what may be an unpopular view, all of these experiences provide students with opportunities to develop leadership skills, to organize complex tasks, to solve problems, to interact with others in meaningful ways. These things happen in the classroom, too, but one value of clubs and activities is that they provide additional ways for people with particular interests to explore those interests and, in the process, work on a range of skills and habits that easily transfer to the so-called real world.
What does EA give students to prepare them for life after EA?
EA does a particularly good job in helping students develop confidence. Our students are comfortable advocating for themselves, they are comfortable speaking with those in positions of authority, they are open to others and are willing to engage with divergent ideas. Not every day, not from the beginning but when they graduate our students will have developed these capacities and those things will serve them well.
If you had the chance to go back in time and give advice to yourself as a first year teacher, what would that advice be?
It would be to remember that the specific content or subject matter is not the most important thing. A good teacher has to have excellent training in his or her subject and continue to grow in that field to be of any value but a good teacher doesn't consider mastery of history or math or science THE most important thing. More important, in my mind, is how a teacher helps a student develop confidence, helps a student find her voice, supports a student when he fails so as to develop persistence, and listens to a student when she struggles with a concept or idea. I would tell myself, in that first year then, that - above all – I need to be attentive to my students' quest to learn and not look at my role as being a dispenser of information.