Seated on a small, wooden desk and dressed in cowboy boots and a bow-tie, Seth Bardo, Instructor in English, reads portions of James Marshall’s anthology of “George and Martha” to his students. To Bardo, “A day without a poem is a day lost.”
Bardo’s passion for English and teaching has spanned his 29 years at Phillips Academy. He found himself drawn to literature because of a middle school teacher.
Bardo said, “When I was in junior high school, my father died. One of my teachers gave me a book by James Agee, called “A Death in the Family,” about a father dying and a young boy dealing with that. It really helped me figure out some things about what I was going through.”
“There was this whole new world that these teachers were introducing me to, and that made it a much richer life. I figured if they could do that for me, I was going to try to see if I could do that for other kids.”
Beyond his his own experience as an english student, Bardo has drawn from his experiences teaching in Tanzania, Tasmania, Costa Rica and France to integrate global perspectives in his classroom.
During a sabbatical six years ago, Bardo taught at a school in Tanzania for five months and lived in Costa Rica for three months. Bardo says his time spent traveling greatly influenced his worldview.
Since his sabbatical abroad, he has integrated his travel experiences into his curriculum by teaching a Senior elective on literature and film from Sub-Saharan Africa. He said the class pushed him to explore a larger scope of literature for in-class reading.
“[The experience] pushed me to read lots of new, interesting things. There’s some really terrific young African writers. and that’s been a whole new sphere of study for me,” said Bardo.
Bardo now has some of his students read “Graceland,” by Chris Abani, a story of a Nigerian boy, and “The Brave, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” by Junot Diaz, which focuses on the life of a boy from the Dominican Republic.
“These are all books that 10 years ago I would never have taught, never considered. And now it’s what I do,” Bardo said.
This Winter Term, Bardo will be working with Diane Moore, Instructor in Philosophy and Religion, to teach an interdisciplinary course titled “Abbot Global Seminar: Encounters,” using funds from a three year Abbot Grant. Students taking the course will have opportunities to explore a variety of global topics and ethical issues.
Bardo and Moore are working to bring in related speakers for the students to meet on a weekly basis.
During spring term, students who stay with the class will have the option of doing community service for academic credit. Bardo said that, although students will be working in Lawrence this year, he hopes to add service opportunities in South Africa and Mumbai in following years.
“[Dr. Moore and I] both feel very similar about a world view and educating kids to feel empowered, to change things,” said Bardo.
Bardo has taught interdisciplinary courses in the past and feels a variety of subjects can come together to allow students to address a complex, interconnected world.
He said, “Disciplines aren’t separate. These things aren’t isolated unto themselves. There are threads that are interconnected all the time. And we know this, and we know that increasingly global issues have to be solved with people from all kinds of disciplines. [Students] have to be asking questions, they have to be bringing different expertise and they have to be collaborating”
Outside of the classroom, Bardo enjoys loud music, particularly jazz, and riding his motorcycle through the rural quiet around his house in the Berkshires, Vt.
A native of Long Island, N.Y., he attended public school before matriculating at Yale and Harvard Universities.
He taught in a public high school for 10 years in western Massachusetts, until he learned about Andover from one of his students, who invited him to visit campus in 1981.
“I didn’t go through any sort of head-hunters or anything like that. I wrote five letters to five different schools. I didn’t know anything about any of the schools. This was way before the Internet. I had to go to the library to get some addresses…Andover was the first to call me,” said Bardo.
Bardo says he found himself appreciating Andover’s supportive community and students’ enthusiasm.
“There’s kind of a wonderful ethos in Bulfinch about sharing…the feeling that when you enter this building where you teach your classes, that people are there kind of as cheerleaders and helping you out,” said Bardo.
Bardo teaches English 100, the required English course for Juniors. “I really like that energy and the kind of enthusiasm that ninth graders bring and their naïveté,” said Bardo.
For these younger students, Bardo keeps his class fast moving and light hearted.
“I think you just need to bring, particularly to the ninth graders, a sense of serendipity and certainly a sense of humor,” said Bardo.
In addition, Bardo teaches an array of senior English electives. Bardo enjoys teaching seminar classes as well as observing the growth many Seniors have made since freshman year.
“I think of the fifteen students in [my Senior elective] class, more than five of them were ninth graders in my class. I get to see them, all these years later, how much they’ve grown and matured and that’s really quite wonderful too,” said Bardo.