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What's Up Magazine

J.D. Head

Jan 09, 2018 03:28PM ● By Caley Breese

Photo by Tony Lewis, Jr.

Rockbridge Academy, Millersville

Years Teaching Overall: 15

Years Teaching at Rockbridge:

Currently teaching: 
7th grade Ancient Literature; 8th grade Early European Literature; 9th grade Later European Literature

Proudest teaching moment:
“When the first 7th grade student said to me, ‘I really learned a lot about that play because you made me write about it.’ That statement and the scores of student comments and observations I have collected in the margins of the books we read are very rewarding; students collectively notice so much more than I could—far more than I would ever notice on my own if I lectured my way through the books instead of reading with and alongside them. It’s a constant reminder that the term ‘community of learners’ denotes more than just a nice sentiment; it describes what I like best about teaching.” 

Teaching Philosophy:
“First, that students would be equipped to learn more than what I teach them—to truly develop learners who are not dependent on me to learn and are eager to go beyond what I can teach them. Second, that students would be placed in a position to encounter and appreciate what is good, true, and beautiful in the subjects for which I am responsible—particularly that they may come to understand the axiom that ‘All Truth is God’s Truth.’ Third, that students, after the practice of exploring, thinking about, and being shaped by great books, should be better equipped to explore, think about, and be shaped by the Bible. Finally, that students will be held to gracious yet high standards, training them to strive for the best rather than settling for less, or crushing them under what is unattainable.”

Toughest challenge facing educators:
“The toughest challenge we have is helping students see the need to “bend the knee” to truth—truth that has the same hold on every human from every background and from every level of society, from the most powerful to the most powerless. Without that understanding, education becomes little more than a tool of Darwinian power positioning to help you get more stuff by being smarter than the next guy; then you die. With that understanding of truth, however, the student will own her responsibility to God to turn her education to something larger than herself and to pursue something far more significant than a grade. 

A small way I try to teach this motion is by drawing students out of themselves and into the text; I require that if we are discussing a book, we actually have to use the text we are discussing—we have to pay attention to the words on the page. We have a responsibility to, as best we are able, actually listen to Jane Austen or John Milton or the Beowulf poet and try to understand what they are saying before we dismiss or critique them—or just pontificate vapidly upon our own opinions. When a student asks me, “Where do you see that in the text?” Then I see that it is working—especially when he catches me vapidly pontificating on my own opinions. I’m accountable, too.”

"Imagine a classroom full of seventh or eighth graders excitedly discussing the significance and meaning of the latest Star Wars movie. They’re “all in,” focused, energetic, eager to participate, wanting to know what might come next. That is a typical day in JD Head’s literature class, only they’re not discussing Star Wars, they’re discussing Homer’s Iliad, or Beowulf, or a Shakespeare play. JD has spent the last twelve years at Rockbridge Academy giving his students a love for great literature and the tools to discuss and write about that literature that will serve them for the rest of their lives. He is the consummate teacher, loving his interaction with his students and the books they read together more with each passing year.” —Jerry Keehner, Upper School Principal