Getting Back to What I Love

June 21, 2020 | Education | James Stuart

I woke up this morning with an image in my head. I had been listening to some music I thought would be great for outdoor vespers. I was imagining which students would be playing guitar and singing. I was imagining how the song would fit with a particular worship thought. Anyway, the image that came to mind was of a Friday evening vespers at the top of our ski run, just before it turns steep, with the valley and mountains stretched out before us.

We have really great sunsets here, and in my mind’s eye this sunset would be incomparable. We would be in that worshipful, contemplative mindset that comes with the dying moments of another week. There would be a campfire, the smell of Douglas fir, the crispness of a late summer evening and students gathered around. It isn’t uncommon to have vespers at the ski lodge, particularly on snowy evenings later in the winter, but we have been missing these evening vespers as of late. 

One of my first memories of the campus life of an academy was when I was following my grandfather around Laurelwood Academy. There was so much vibrant energy, I knew in that moment what my life calling was going to be. I wouldn’t find out until a decade or so later what the subject would be. I have always felt called to teach students first; the love of a subject came second.

The last few months I have found myself sitting in front of a computer 10 hours a day, trying to find the best way to break down science into easily understood fundamentals for video after video. All those daily labs and demonstrations had to be moved onto a video. Science is supposed to have five senses engaged. We should be wading in creeks, feeling the thump in your chest from a good chemistry explosion, hearing the resonance of a vibrating rod and wrestling together over some challenging problems. After a day of shooting videos, writing assignments, and grading, I am drained. I miss the very things that drove me to teaching in the first place: the students, the interactions, the energy of a full classroom. Instead we are using Zoom, Meet and YouTube and connecting through half a dozen other online platforms. 

I miss walking down onto campus and greeting students coming up to the Ad Building for classes. I miss those large hacky sack games in front of the dorm that are more of an occasion for laughter than a demonstration of any sort of skill. I miss our softball games in the evening, when the whole school turns out and it doesn’t matter whether you can really hit a ball or not. We won’t be having our spring picnic, our Track and Field Day or our end-of-the-year Agape Vespers at the lodge this year. It’s that togetherness thing that is missing.

We are already planning for next year, which is difficult as no one knows exactly how next year will go. Will there be a second national wave of illness? Will Glacier National Park open back up for our planned Outdoor School? But really the whole coronavirus thing did not hit us that hard here. Maybe that is because there are fewer of us in Montana, more open space, more “Big Sky.” Even just being on a campus 3 miles into the countryside provides a bit of a buffer from the craziness as well. 

But whatever happens outside our campus, I feel optimistic about our future. Our science lab is getting a much anticipated makeover. We are building a new amphitheater. The gym parking lot and lobby are getting a face-lift. We are adding in new classes, including fly fishing and a dual-credit class in English. Biology class will be raising trout in the classroom.

We have the same dynamic teaching staff. And as I write, spring is coming back to our campus. The hills are greening up. The wildflowers are coloring the fields, and the mountains in all their wildness still mark out our horizons. It feels like a rebirth.

We are going to get back to bonfire vespers, canoeing on the lake, hiking in the mountains, skiing on our ski hill, snorkeling with the trout, playing soccer and basketball, telling stories and laughing together, but most especially to what I love: togetherness with students.