Earlier this year, Mark Bauerlein invited humanities PhDs to join the ranks of classical school teachers across the country. To his advice I say, “Amen.” I can testify from personal experience that a good life awaits those who follow this route.
I graduated with a PhD in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto in 2018, with expertise in historical theology and canon law. Like my peers, I dreamed of securing a permanent university post. Unlike my peers, I couldn’t bear the thought of spending the next five or ten years bouncing around the country, taking whatever postdoc or year-long teaching contract I might be fortunate to get, anxiously wondering whether one day I would be offered tenure. By an odd set of circumstances (that is, by the providence of God), near the end of my studies I made contact with Mark Newcomb, headmaster of a fledgling grade school in Texas. He graciously offered me a job and to help arrange my move from Canada to Texas. On a whim, I accepted the offer.
My intention at first was to stay a year or two until I secured a stable position in higher education. Yet the work has proved so rewarding and enjoyable that you can still find me here, teaching the liberal arts to middle school children.
During graduate school I was an instructor or assistant for several university courses, but I enjoy teaching children more. They have not yet grown jaded with the cynicism and reserve characteristic of university discourse. If you give children the routine and firm hand they need, they will reward you with respect and eagerness to learn. Already in middle school they are capable of high levels of intellectual engagement. We read through Dante’s Purgatorio, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, Hesiod’s Theogony, and other classic works. Children have a refreshing, common-sense approach to books and keen insights into their literal sense, which make our literature discussions thoughtful and lively. They also express themselves remarkably well on paper. I’ve worked extensively at university writing centers and can confidently say the top third of eighth graders here are better writers than the bottom third of undergraduate students.
Nor have I had to abandon my own scholarly interests. A stable job with benefits and three months off in the year allows plenty of time to pursue research. I’ve published a steady stream of journal articles, with my first book now available (a translation of the Glossa Ordinaria, the standard medieval Bible commentary) and a couple more on the way. My co-teachers themselves have rich intellectual lives, which make for an intellectually stimulating work environment. I’ve spent many hours hearing from them of the Hyksos of ancient Egypt, the oddities of medieval calligraphy, or the psychological insights of the Ratio studiorum, a document that standardized Jesuit education.
My home life immediately improved upon taking the job. As a graduate student I was a rootless bachelor, party to the culture of permanent adolescence fostered by higher education. Getting a stable job knocked some sense into me. Within a couple of years, I had married another teacher, a pretty graduate of Hillsdale College. Soon thereafter we had our first child and purchased our first home. I have good job security and if I have to move, I have a career I can take anywhere in the country. As much as I enjoyed graduate school, life is better on the outside.
My fellow humanities PhDs, go where you are wanted. There are plenty of classical schools across the country eager to enlist your services. Hiring season is around the corner and the job boards are filling up, whether at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, the Association of Classical Christian Schools, the Circe Institute, or many others.
Samuel Klumpenhouwer teaches the liberal arts at Saint Theresa Catholic School in Sugar Land, Texas.
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