Prior to joining the community at FA, Doc Howard taught at Rutgers University and Franklin & Marshall College, where she was a Visiting Assistant Professor. She completed her dissertation at Rutgers in 2013, and has been the recipient of awards and fellowships from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, the Huntington Library, the Harrison Institute at the University of Virginia, and Rutgers University. Her scholarly work has been published in the journals American Literature and Common-place. I decided to ask Doc Howard a few questions after her first year teaching at Friends.
1. What is your favorite thing about Friends Academy?
The students! Kids here are bright and curious, and I have had a great time teaching old material in a new context. I am surprised every day by my students—their zaniness, their hope, their willingness to think something for the first time. On rainy Mondays or days that would otherwise drag, my students are the first to cheer me up. Maybe that sounds cheesy, but if you’re in my classroom you know it’s true!
2. Who was your first friend at FA? (teacher or student)
I was lucky enough to meet Doc Garrett in my initial interview, and we’ve continued to be close to this day. English can be a really fun discipline if you are fortunate enough to work with someone with her sense of wit. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Profe Scudelari or Ms. Levey as well, two friends I bonded with right away.
3. Considering your disclosed views on gender equality, what is your view on our school's dress code? (Since you are a new teacher, I understand that it might be controversial to answer questions like this, but you have actually shed light on issues surrounding dress code when other teachers have failed to do so).
This is a very interesting question, which I will address from two different angles. The first takes up the issue of etymology. Many students suspect that the term “modesty” may have a meaning that has applied differently to men and women throughout the history of its usage. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the earliest use of the term to mean “decorum, propriety; scrupulous sobriety of thought, speech, conduct, etc,; natural avoidance of coarseness or lewdness” to 1531. Though this meaning has remained in circulation, the OED notes that its earliest use pertained to “virtue proper to women.” This means that the word “modesty” carries with it a gendered linguistic history. Can a word with this type of history apply to men and women equally?
One suggestion I have made throughout the year is thinking about the term “professional” as a potential substitute for “modesty”. Most workplaces have a professional dress code, and while work clothing may differ for men and women, the term itself applies to (and implies) them equally.
Another concern students have raised with me this year, beyond questioning the term “modesty,” is the role dress code plays in a world where gender is increasingly recognized as a fluid category. Does it make sense to impose gender categories on individuals who might be questioning their own gender identification or pushing back against a system that dictates what “normal” means for men and women? Whether it is something as major as Caitlyn Jenner’s transition, or as minor as tailors creating suiting for genderqueer/fluid professional women, signs abound that awareness in our society is growing around issues of gender and identification. This is truly an exciting moment in our history, and it is personally inspiring to me that students here are interested in thinking more about these issues in general, and dress code in particular.
4. Do students at Friends disprove or approve of the stereotypes you might have heard about them prior to joining our community? (I.e. aloof, spoiled, snobbish)
My sense is that they strongly disapprove of these stereotypes. FA students want to be seen as whole individuals. In my experience, it is wise to reserve judgments about groups. It’s far better to get to know people as individuals, and to recognize that there is always room for a conversation and learning.
5. After your first year here, do you feel as if Friends is the right fit for you? If so, why?
Taking this job was really a leap into the dark for me, and I’m happy to say that it has paid off. Given my experience as a teacher at the college level, I thought I would be successful in making this transition, but nothing could have prepared me for the warm reception I received from students here. I have made a point of thanking my students for their willingness to adapt with me as I adjust to a new teaching environment. It is this level of generosity and enthusiasm on the part of the student body that has confirmed to me that this transition was truly the right thing.