Faculty & Staff Profiles

Faculty Spotlight: Middle School language arts and history teacher Jeff Boyd
Posted 02/16/2017 05:17PM

Texas-born and -bred Jeff Boyd envisioned a life in health care, and that’s where he was headed. His path to teaching and to Durham Academy was anything but straight, but a series of “six degrees of separation” connections make it seem like Boyd was destined to be here.  

Boyd grew up in Dallas and attended Greenhill School, an independent school similar to Durham Academy. Longtime DA Headmaster Ed Costello was head of the Greenhill Upper School when Boyd was in Preschool. And when Boyd was a 10th-grader, former DA teacher David Braemer arrived as director of Greenhill’s Upper School.

Megan Van Wart, a Greenhill teaching colleague and former DA teacher, may have had the most direct impact on Boyd’s path to DA. Boyd’s wife had matched at Duke University for her medical residency, and he was looking for a teaching job in the Triangle area. Boyd consulted Van Wart. “I approached her and said I’ve got an interview scheduled and I’ve heard about another school in the area. She said let me stop you, you need to be at Durham Academy. I know you, I know Durham Academy.”

Boyd is in his second year teaching language arts and history at Durham Academy Middle School, and he couldn’t be happier, in spite of the fact that teaching is not the career he envisioned.

Boyd was pre-med at Brown University when an organic chemistry course made him realize “OK, this isn’t for me.” He found his sweet spot as a community health major, and liked the way he was encouraged to think about solving problems.

“Instead of acute care focused on a specific patient, you are targeting a whole population and considering things like equity and access and the rising cost of health care. It was a lot of fun for me to tackle what I thought were really important problems.”

He thought he wanted to run a children’s hospital, so after graduating from Brown, Boyd took a job in community outreach and wellness programming at Children’s Medical Center, a major pediatric center in Dallas. “I had always liked kids and I just saw a fit there. … I would be the hospital representative at different conferences, work with school nurses, teen health coalitions. It all sounded cool, but every day I would go back to my desk. It’s in a cubicle and I’m on a computer, and I was working in a silo. I knew very quickly that wasn’t for me.”

A call from Tom Perryman, assistant head of school at Greenhill who knew Boyd from his student days, set Boyd in a different direction. Perryman said he was just checking in to find out how Boyd was doing. When Boyd said that he didn’t like his job, Perryman’s response was “Good, because I’m calling to talk to you about our teaching fellows program.”

Boyd was intrigued by the Greenhill program, which brings in eight to 12 young teachers each year and pairs them with a master teacher as mentor and guide. He signed on as a teaching fellow, but ended up with his own class when a faculty member left over the summer.

“I took an education course in college, really just to dip my toe in. I loved kids, had always worked Greenhill summer camps, mostly sports camps, and I’d done some tutoring when I was a high school student, so this wasn’t entirely unfamiliar. I knew I was going to like it. I didn’t know whether I was going to be any good at it.”

It quickly became apparent that Boyd was good at teaching. “Everybody said you’ve got a knack for this, you seem to really love it, you’ve also demonstrated a desire to be better and refine your skills, so you should look into a graduate program.” After several years teaching middle school at Greenhill, Boyd left for Harvard and a master’s degree in education, then returned to Greenhill for a year.

Boyd believes his Greenhill background made the transition to teaching easier. He knew the Greenhill culture and the community, and he appreciated what the school meant to him.

“I just know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without that education. At DA, we talk about having life-changing faculty, and I feel like I had a similar experience. I don’t remember my classroom experiences — the assignments, the projects — so much as I do the relationships with peers but also with faculty.”

Education had been important to Boyd’s family for generations. “My grandma on my dad’s side was a school teacher. On my mom’s side, we’ve got a collection of the first black doctors in Beaumont, Texas.”

Boyd’s parents chose to send him and his younger sister to Greenhill. “I had a wonderful experience. It strikes me as very similar to the experience kids get at DA. I loved Greenhill, I still do. It changed my life. When I consider the opportunities I had as a result of my education at Greenhill, everything from lifelong friendships and the network, but the level of preparedness for college was amazing.”

In addition to achieving an academic record that landed him at Brown, Boyd played quarterback on the Greenhill football team and point guard on the basketball team. He also participated in Greenhill’s affinity groups program.

“It was really cool that the school made a point to create this space for us. Basically they were saying that we understand that your experience as young black men and women on this campus is different, not better or worse, but undeniably different, and understanding that we want to make sure you have the space to talk about it. … Almost every day you take in the fact that you don’t look like everybody else you go to school with. I don’t want to understate how cool it was to be able to just look at how many faces there were in those rooms that looked like me. It didn’t change my experience in Spanish class the next period, but it really did do wonders to shift my outlook on what it meant to be a member of the Greenhill community and specifically a black male in that community.”

Boyd was a faculty facilitator with the affinity groups at Greenhill. At DA, he has been active with affinity groups and is a diversity coordinator for the Middle School.

He has been part of DA’s delegation to the People of Color Conference, a national meeting for independent school educators. Last year was Boyd’s first time attending as a faculty member, but 11 years earlier he had participated in the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, which is the student conference held in conjunction with PoCC.

As a faculty chaperone, he would meet with DA students after the day’s events had concluded. “Every evening I’m hearing from them ‘Oh my gosh, today we learned about this and this’ and ‘We met all these amazing people’ and I just remembered what that was like for me as a junior in high school.”

Boyd’s schedule is packed. He’s an assistant coach for varsity boys basketball and coaches soccer at the Middle School. A rugby player in college, Boyd leads a rugby club at Middle School for both boys and girls. But when he does have free time, he’s likely to play golf, tennis or read.

Comic books are often his reading material of choice, but these are not your parents’ comic books. Boyd read his first comic book — Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan — when he was a freshman at Brown, and Vaughan is still his favorite author.

Comic books and graphic novels often find their way into his classroom. “When I read for fun, it’s weird because rarely am I just reading for fun. I’m always picking something up and in the back of my mind, I’m thinking how could I maybe incorporate this in my classroom, even part of it.” His eighth-grade language arts students read Maus by Art Spiegelman, a graphic novel about a concentration camp survivor, while they were talking about the Holocaust and World War II in history class.

Boyd would like to get into school leadership at some point, but he thinks he’ll always be teaching because of the interaction with students.

“The ability to engage with people every day, that’s huge. Also, I like middle school in particular because I get to see the light bulbs going on. Almost every day in every different section I teach, I have multiple kids going ‘Oh wow’ and they get that look on their face. I love teaching.

“I like teaching at a place like Durham Academy where there is autonomy in the curriculum and I have the ability to talk about some important things that might not otherwise get discussed. I don’t know how frequently I sat down at the dinner table and talked about class issues or poverty and topics that come up in our language arts course all the time, our history course all the time.

“So it’s the ability have some really powerful and impactful conversations with the students. It’s a big deal. It’s a big responsibility.”

An independent, coeducational day school, pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
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