Story by Susan Ellis // Photography by Melody Guyton Butts
In 1988, the Durham Academy Board of Trustees established the F. Robertson Hershey Distinguished Faculty Award in recognition of former Headmaster Rob Hershey’s decade of dedication to faculty excellence. Since that time, 33 teachers have been recognized for their extraordinary talents and contributions. They represent the best in teaching by: inspiring enthusiasm in the classroom and encouraging academic aspiration; demonstrating sensitivity to the academic and personal needs of the individual student; encouraging and supporting the efforts of colleagues; promoting the cooperation of a broad spectrum of the DA community; and contributing to school life outside the classroom.
Since arriving at Durham Academy in 1995, Upper School English and art history teacher Jordan Adair has improved the lives of many faculty and enriched the experience of hundreds of students. He ignites the fire that fuels a student’s thirst for knowledge, curiosity and wisdom. He is firm, genuine, passionate, thoughtful, creative and extremely generous with his time. He loves what he does, and his passion nurtures, facilitates and inspires an appetite for learning. He guides his students and helps them carve a path for moral, happy and productive lives.
Sidney Hook, an American pragmatic philosopher and contributor to the philosophy of education, claimed that “everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system.” This year’s Hershey Award recipient is fondly and rightfully known for both. Jordan is an adept teacher and one who is well aware of “best practices.” He is not only a gifted teacher, but an exemplary role model.
An Upper School colleague shared, “Over the course of my 41-year career, the last 11 at Durham Academy, I did not have a better colleague and more trusted friend. As well as being a transformative figure in the lives of his advisees and students, he was tremendously influential in the careers of many of his English department colleagues and across departmental lines. He shared his ideas, was
willing to debate pedagogy, discuss strategies and methods and he was always eager to pursue avenues that would make him a better, more effective teacher.”
One of Jordan’s former students said, “He was my favorite teacher ever. He made us connect with each other through conversation and his kindness and understanding. I have never worked so hard for an A- in my life, but I loved it.”
Jordan is a member of the Upper School Assist Team, which is a non-disciplinary group that helps students address the use of alcohol and other drugs. His dedication to the Assist Team and the assemblies in which he shares his own experience of recovery, the stories of military
veterans [who are annual guests as part of Adair’s course examining literary and artistic responses to war] and his passion for biking safety further exemplify his deeply personal commitment to sharing his own humanity and to teaching us all to be better humans through
He encourages the efforts of colleagues, supports the initiatives of DA, contributes to the greater school community and is a superb purveyor of information. Through the years, he has served on many school committees and task forces and can be seen keeping the score at the varsity basketball games. Early in his DA career, he coached the varsity boys basketball team.
Jordan wants his students to learn and to look inside themselves and understand who they are, how they feel, what they think and why. He refuses to accept superficial imitation of self-reflection in exchange for a grade. He demands authenticity and vulnerability from his students, and he frequently gets it. There is a reason so many students in their 20s, 30s and 40s remain in touch and come back to visit him.
“Even 20 years later, I still remember my years in Mr. Adair’s class so vividly,” an alumna recalled. “He is truly a ‘tough love’ teacher in the finest sense — he challenges his students to be the best version of themselves and is not afraid to (very nicely) let them know when he thinks they have more to give.”
It should come to no one’s surprise he was the 2007 Upper School recipient of the Brumley Excellence in Teaching Award.
He is the epitome of a life-changing teacher who makes a difference. Thus, it is fitting that Jordan Adair is honored with the 2021 F. Robertson Hershey Distinguished Faculty Award.
“Mr. Adairʼs passion for teaching is surpassed only by how much he cares about his students. … I’m lucky to learn from him.”
Emily Norry ’21
Editor’s Note: Susan Ellis was the 2020 recipient of the F. Robertson Hershey Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award has been presented annually since 1989 and was established in honor of Rob Hershey, head of school from 1978 to 1988. The Hershey Award was presented to Jordan Adair in May 2021 at Upper School commencement.