This article, written by Blair Batson '21, originally appeared in the first issue of this year's Eagle Edition student newspaper. The accompanying photo was taken by ESD student photographer Riley Breaux '20. Middle School administrators returning to the classroom are Jonathan Chein, Head of Middle School, and Meg Fahrenbrook '01, Assistant Head of Middle School.
In an effort to place administrators in the classroom, The Episcopal School of Dallas's Assistant Head of Upper School Jeff Laba, Head of Upper School Henry Heil, and Head of School David Baad are each teaching one class this year.
Laba is teaching sophomore chemistry; Baad is teaching sixth grade U.S. history; and Heil, who taught U.S. government last school year, will teach a history class in the spring.
“[Teaching classes is] a way for administrators to make sure they don’t forget what it’s like to be in the classroom,” Laba said. “It’s also a way for the students to get to know the administrators better.”
This is Laba’s first time in the classroom in four years. Previously, he has taught physics, AP Physics and a freshman class that was an introduction to physics and chemistry.
“Teaching is a lot of fun,” Laba said. “I’m enjoying being back in the classroom.”
Heil’s first year at the school two years ago was the first year in his career in education that he did not teach. Including his U.S. government class last year, Heil has taught western civilization, sociology, U.S. history, and civil rights.
“I was really anxious to get back into the classroom,” Heil said. “It’s a really important way for me to stay connected to the students. Without a doubt in my career, whether I’ve been an administrator or not, the students I’ve been the closest with are the ones I’ve taught.”
Similar to Heil, Baad’s first year at the school was his first year in education to not teach. Previously, Baad taught a freshman ancient history class, a seventh-grade ethics class, eighth grade U.S. history, high school world history, and fifth-grade homeroom.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been hard to adjust to teaching itself,” Baad said. “What’s been different is I’ve been teaching high school, so going to teach sixth grade has been an adjustment for me, but I’m hoping students will be patient with me, and we’ll have a good time with it.”Baad chose to teach sixth-grade history because he wanted to develop relationships with students that he would end up knowing for six or seven years until they graduated.
“[Teaching] allows me to have a focused, intense experience for about one hour a day with a group of kids, which is not something I get to do administratively,” Baad said. “Administratively, you’re very often thinking about the school at a 30,000-foot level. You’re thinking of how all the pieces fit together from beginners to seniors, and then when you start thinking about teaching, it’s about the daily experience of a very small group of kids, so it exercises different parts of your brain.”
Teaching has provided Laba, Heil, and Baad with an opportunity to develop closer relationships with students, compared to big-picture administrative tasks.
“Teaching is being in the trenches,” Heil said. “That’s where schools work. For me, if you’re not teaching, it’s really difficult for you to have a good sense of what’s happening in the school. Being in the classroom, knowing what those kids are going through, getting a sense of their levels of stress and anxiety, hearing what’s going on on a day-to-day basis was really important for me to have my fingers on the pulse of what’s going on. If you’re an administrator, and you don’t teach, you’re really missing out.”
In the coming years, the school is going to continue to put administrators in teaching positions.
“We can see a different side of an administrator who normally we look at in a different way,” Sophomore Anna Baranski said. “Now we get to see his teaching style and it’s really cool.”
Heil, Laba, and Baad all agree that this will better the school.
“One of the things that I really believe about a school is that there are really good opportunities for everyone to be involved with students, which is really what the school’s all about,” Heil said. “I’m really excited that more people have gotten involved in the classroom—it’s going to benefit the culture of the school.”