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The Call to Teach: John Hyde '48

Q&A with Amy Reynolds, Communications Specialist
This article appeared as part of a series in the Spring 2018 issue of the Tower Hill Bulletin

Tower Hill’s alumni database turned up nearly 200 alumni who entered the field of education, and the more we researched, the more we found. They are early childhood, elementary, middle and high school teachers, college professors, psychologists, coaches, admission counselors, non-profit administrators… The list goes on and on, remarkable in its variety and breadth. Here we highlight just a few across the decades, representative of the many alumni who chose to make teaching their life’s work, and in turn, make a meaningful impact on the lives of young people.

John Hyde ‘48 is an emeritus history professor at Williams College, where he also served as dean of freshmen and dean of the college. During his time as an undergraduate at Williams, he also served in the Navy in the Korean War. He earned his master’s degree in history from the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Since retiring from Williams in 2000, he has continued to lecture on occasion. In retirement, he launched the John Hyde Fellowship, which allows select faculty to expand their teaching in new directions.

Why did you decide to go into education?
If you’re going to get a Ph.D., that essentially means you want to teach at the college level, not at the high school level. I certainly didn’t intend to be just a scholar doing research. I did it because I hoped I could go into teaching, and I did. And why did I decide to do it? Well, I had some experience tutoring students while I was serving in the Navy, and it was a very satisfying experience. Mostly the men had come out of the Appalachia during the Depression, and they hadn’t even finished high school, so I prepared them for a high school exam, and it was a very satisfying experience.
What are your proudest accomplishments from working in education?
I discovered that I not only enjoyed but was successful in teaching in the classroom, and not lecturing but conducting a discussion class. That may seem to many people, particularly people at Tower Hill, to be a given. But teaching a class where you get the students to participate is not easy, and I served as chair of the history department and you would often hire a very good scholar who really bombed when he or she went into the classroom. They didn’t know how to ask questions that would then lead to further discussion. That was my accomplishment. I discovered that I was able to ask questions that then led to further involvement by the students and often the students began talking between themselves. That was always the best of all things because then I could sit back and listen and see what they were interested in. That, I think, made my life as a teacher very satisfying.
What aspects of education are timeless?
Curiosity. I think people are always curious, and that curiosity, in many cases, requires a formal education. That is, if you want to read great literature, you have to know how to read words. Curiosity, in the society we live in now, is absolutely necessary.
Were there any experiences at Tower Hill that really stood out?
I came to Tower Hill in the 8th Grade from Newark High School. I took Latin taught by a wonderful woman named Ms. Jones, and I can remember going into the first class—this was the 8th Grade—and she began talking about indirect objects and direct objects and the structure of a sentence—in effect, what grammar was. I had had none of that at Newark High School. So I told Ms. Jones after class, “I really don’t know what you’re talking about because I don’t know what an indirect object is in that sense of the word.” And so she spent every afternoon with me helping me understand grammar because the students who had been at Tower Hill before the 8th Grade had a woman named Ms. Buckles in the 7th Grade, and Ms. Buckles taught in infinitely detailed ways English grammar, and I had obviously not had that at that age. So Ms. Jones gave some of her time to make it possible for me to diagram sentences and to know what grammar was, which were absolutely essential to understanding Latin. And I always remember that I came out with an A- in Latin, and that’s because a teacher at Tower Hill took the time to tutor me, in effect, in ways that made it possible for me to take a foreign language. That isn’t to say that Newark High School didn’t have it, but it didn’t have it until 8th or 9th Grade. But to combine an understanding of grammar with a language like Latin has served me superbly all my life, because I know not only how to correct mistakes, but I know how to write. And that has been a joy in my life and in many ways it was a response to my experience at Tower Hill.