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Faculty Spotlight: John Hyland

Germantown Academy teachers are passionate about the subjects they teach. They are consistently attending workshops and conferences all over the country to better improve their craft. They are leading regional teaching organizations specific to their subjects. They are also sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge with the world through writing. Take Dr. John Hyland for example. The first-year Upper School English teacher recently had a lengthy article published in the South Atlantic Review, a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal published by the South Atlantic Modern Language Association, examining "Word Making Man," a poem written by Caribbean poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite.

"This article "closely listens" to a poem by Edward Kamau Brathwaite, a very important Caribbean poet, called "Word Making Man," which is dedicated to the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén," said Hyland. "I specifically focus on a recording of Brathwaite reading the poem in Havana in the 1970s. My doctoral work focused on the literatures and cultures of the African diaspora. This article draws from my current book project on the poetry of the African diaspora and audio technologies. I'm interested in the ways that poets writing in the Caribbean and the Americas use sound recordings in their work. In this project, I'm fundamentally concerned with acts of listening

This is not the first time Hyland has been published. His essays and reviews have appeared in numerous journals. Over the years he has written about experimental feminist writer Gertrude Stein, the modernist painter Paul Klee, and on gender and violence in the postcolonial novel as well as other pieces on sound recordings and the poetry of the African diaspora. Hyland has also presented his work at national and international conferences alike, most recently at the Caribbean Studies Association's annual conference in Port Au Prince, Haiti.

"It's always wonderful to have the opportunity to share my work, no matter the form," said Hyland, who has received research grants from Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts to work in the archives of notable writers such as W.E.B. Du Bois and June Jordan. "So much of my scholarship involves locating obscure recordings and texts. It takes a long time to do this kind of intellectual work. This article took nearly four years to produce. This archival work is part of my book project, Atlantic Reverberations: The Sonic Performances of Black Diasporic Poetries."

Hyland has also published his own poetry in the past.

"I have been spending a lot more time writing my own stuff," said Hyland. "Some of my work is forthcoming, so stay tuned! I'm really excited to have the opportunity to visit Robert Frost's homestead in Franconia, New Hampshire this summer for a weeklong workshop on writing, reading, and teaching poetry. I'll be teaching an English elective on poetry next year."

Hyland also paints and enjoys collaborating with artist and writers. He performed with the Buffalo Poets Theater while completing his doctoral work (Philosophy, English) at University of Buffalo.

"I believe deeply in interdisciplinary collaboration. It's been a defining experience of my life," said Hyland, who earned his Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Arts in English/Studio Art from Colvin Honors College at the University of Maine. He also earned a Master of Arts in Cultural Studies at Brandeis University.

Here at GA, Hyland has the luxury of teaching around a Harkness Table, an element of the classroom that he cherishes.

"My habits of mind as a student and scholar formed at a Harkness table; as both a student and a teacher, with the exception of art studios, it's the only kind of classroom I've ever known," said Hyland. "I attended a small boarding school (The Millbrook School) in New England. It was a transformative experience. We had very small classes and read classic and contemporary texts. I still have my dog-eared copies of Beloved, Great Expectations, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Crime and Punishment, and A Scarlet Letter. Even in biology, we read Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac—I still teach with this copy!

"My teachers let me find my way through those texts—they were my guides, I trusted them—but they never told me what to think about the texts or what to write about them," continued Hyland. "I try to emulate my teachers. All of my classes are discussion-based and student-centered. I want my students to arrive at their own conclusions. I am deeply concerned with the ways that we listen to each other, to our environments, to ourselves. This is in many ways the defining question of my current book project: How do we listen? And I think that listening is the lifelong skill—even more than speaking—that I learned while sitting around a Harkness Table talking about literature. I like to tell my students about an old friend who says there are two kinds of people: those who listen and those who wait to speak."

As a student at the University of Maine's Colvin Honors College, Hyland had the tremendous opportunity to work in small Oxford-style tutorials with professors and read foundational texts such as Plato's Republic, Darwin's Origin of Species and Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents.

"It was amazing to closely read, with three or four other students, these works with scholars who are active in their fields," said Hyland. "The same was also very true in graduate school."

Before arriving at GA, Hyland taught small, thematic-based writing seminars and tutorials at several liberal arts colleges, most recently at Haverford College.

Hyland is also a big believer in experiential and project-based learning.

"I love to do projects; I love to create," said Hyland. "We often learn best by doing. I first studied painting in college. I still paint and enjoy making things. My senior honors thesis focused on poetry, painting, and philosophy, and I completed a series of original paintings and built a jeep as part of it. In fact, my first teaching job was in studio art. About a decade and half ago, I taught film, art education and appreciation to grades 3-10 at the North Jakarta International School in Jakarta, Indonesia. For this reason, whenever I get a chance, I develop project-based learning in my writing classrooms. I regularly incorporated student-driven projects into my seminars at Haverford College. This is why I'm so excited about my writing students' collaboration with the art department."

Dr. Hyland at the start of the Loon Mountain Race with his daughter, Djuna.
(Dr. Hyland at the start of the Loon Mountain Race with his daughter, Djuna.)

Here at GA, Hyland teaches Grade 9 English and Creative Non-fiction, a course in which his students are working on an interdisciplinary digital storytelling projected called "Invisible Stories" with students in Upper School Photography Teacher Nicholas Wynia's Honors Photography class. In the fall, he also taught an elective entitled "Narratives of New World Encounters." Next year he plans to teach a course on the literature and film of environmental justice as well as a course on reading, writing, and listening to poetry.

"Literature is powerful because, like music and the visual and performing arts, it is the place where we can experience the freedom of our imaginations," said Hyland. "If we cannot imagine a better world, we'll never live in one. Writers and artists are our salvation."

Hyland is also active outside the classroom. He serves as the JV girls soccer head and an assistant coach on the varsity ice hockey team, which captured an Independence Hockey League title this past winter. In addition to writing and painting, Hyland also enjoys fly fishing and mountain running. Last summer he competed in the Loon Mountain Race in New Hampshire's White Mountains as well as the Whiteface Sky Race in the Adirondacks. He's looking forward to exploring Pennsylvania's wild trout streams this summer.