Ms. Kathy Philipp
Joined SRDS Community: 1985
Degrees: B.A., English & Theater; M.A., Teaching, Duke Univ.
8th Grade and US English (11-12 Hon and AP)
What are some of your fondest memories from teaching at SRDS?
I love being a part of SRDS and participating in its evolution over the last thirty years. At the beginning of my tenure, I was not much older than the students, so my relationship was more like that of an older “wiser” sibling -- and I was one of the younger faculty members. Now I am the age of many of their grandparents and I hope they see me as still wise but more venerable! One memory that stands out is watching the son of one of my original students graduate -- I had taught them both for several years. I also treasure being a part of several search committees for new heads; we came together: teachers, parents, and administrators to choose leaders who we knew would be able to bring Saddle River Day further on its journey. One experience that I have on a daily basis is observing the light going on in a students’ eyes when they make a true connection with a piece they have read or an insight another student reveals in discussion. It is that experience which keeps me in the classroom and enthusiastic about mentoring students in their process.
What authors or books inspire you? Who should we be reading now and why?
I am a passionate reader and see the act of reading as fulfilling two necessities in my life: the first is amusement and the second is intellectual and emotional stimulation. My “Mind Candy” is anything in the mystery genre -- an exciting way to escape and as I love puzzles, my reading of these isn’t passive. When I want to challenge myself and read pieces that will stay with me, I tend to read texts that are tied to American history, either exploring a new take on an event or side path I have not explored. If the book is written in an unusual or innovative style, so much the better. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Sanders, which riffs on the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son Teddy, as told through the spirits in the cemetery where he has been laid, Beloved,Toni Morrison’s complex and creative portrait of an escaped slave before and after the Civil War, and even Seth Graham-Smith’s satire, Abraham Lincoln,Vampire Hunter, which makes sense of the North-South conflict by explaining that the plantation owners are all vampires; each text, bring to familiar events a fresh and often darkly comic viewpoint. Reading books such as these enrich my understanding of the American experience. I also think it is important to be exposed to other cultures; we need to develop empathy for those in other countries; ironically by reading these pieces we discover that we have more in common than perhaps we realize: Chimanda Ngozi Adiche, a Nigerian writer who is also famous for a phenomenal Ted Talk, has several novels: Purple Hibiscus and Americanah, which focus on African experiences yet reveal universal truths.
What do you love about teaching?
I love teaching. Why? One reason is that I get to interact with and mentor students daily. I also get to share my love and enthusiasm for reading and hope that at least a few are inspired by my passion to adopt this life-long habit. I love that at Saddle River Day, while I have the support and guidance from the administration, I am given the freedom to implement my own curriculum and don’t have to teach the exact same material every year. I love teaching students at different phases in their lives; watching them evolve from eighth-graders to seniors is very rewarding.
Why English? What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
As a senior in college, I knew that I wanted to teach and I loved to read, but I did not understand how pushing reluctant students to study classics was going to fulfill me as a career. However, in my graduate school program at Duke, I learned the real reason why English is the most important course in the curriculum. English is actually a communication skills class, so that any facet of reaching out to others fits in the course. English also helps students build critical thinking skills, through the reading and comparison of writers who are expressing their opinions of the world. Once I understood that, I was able to see why it was essential and I was trained in my MAT program to know how to do it. Those techniques with additional educational development have stand me in good stead for forty years. In class, we read, write, present, and reflect on regularly, whether it is about the most recent movie we have seen or about the deconstruction of a Shakespearean play. One of the lessons that I hope they take away is that written communication is a process that needs to be revised, edited, and reworked before it is ready for public consumption. This process is a part of every piece the class writes and it is key for all writers, whether they are writing graphic novels, movie scripts, short stories or expository essays.
How does our curriculum and teaching at SRDS prepare students to succeed in college and beyond? In every course at Saddle River Day, we are cognizant of the future of our students. We want them to be ready for college and also for life beyond the classroom. My teaching has evolved over the years from often expecting students to memorize material which they would spout back on tests, to using what has been taught as a tool to create a sophisticated response. They stage scenes, design symbolic images in the Ideas Lab, write pieces that tie the text to other genres and the outside world. They are preparing to be critical thinkers, in whatever area their career takes them. They also are required to work together to implement projects. These interpersonal skills will be essential in the future. As an English teacher, I also emphasize the need for empathy, through the reading of diverse texts, and speculation about what an author is doing and why. This too is necessary for the future.