Most seniors feel slightly snubbed that they won’t get to experience the fruits of the long and disruptive Hugh K. Schilling Center construction next year, and many other teachers and faculty share anxious sentiments regarding the wait; however, US English teacher Lucy Polk, who will be retiring at the end of this school year, feels no rush and no disappointment that she will not be here for the final product.
“I love construction. Everyone else is moaning and groaning, but I just love it. It’s been fun, in the ninth grade room, we can see everything that’s happening. I have taken the tours. To me, the process is really exciting, but I know other people really just want to move in because it is going to be so fantastic,” Polk said.
Polk has been teaching at St. Paul Academy and Summit School since 1984. Her first teaching position was with 8th and 9th graders–at the time, the current upper school building included grades 7-12. When the middle school building was finished in 2000, Polk took an opportunity to teach there.
“When we moved into the Lower School, I was on that task force, so I decided to go there… And that was a really good experience. My kids weren’t in middle school, and it was nice to be in a new building with a new program, 6-8th [grade],” she said.
Polk has taught English for her entire teaching career, which extends back prior to her employment at SPA. She taught at public schools in Connecticut and Pennsylvania before moving to Minnesota and working at Concordia Academy for a year.
“I had just moved here, and I taught at Concordia Academy, and decided that wasn’t a good fit for me. I heard about SPA, and I don’t live that far from here, and there was an opening. When I interviewed, I was really impressed.”
Timeline by Nitya Thakkar
Although she has been in the subject for more than 34 years, Polk did not envision becoming an English teacher when she was in high school.
“I was a science and math person in high school. When I went to college, I couldn’t really see what math and science people did. I am not the type of person who can work in a lab by herself, and I knew that early on, so I took English courses and really liked them,” Polk said.
She majored in English, theater, and psychology: “All the humanities,” Polk said.
Fortunately, Polk is well-suited for her job because she believes curiosity and deep-thinking are two of the most valuable skills one can have–and teach: “Stay curious,” she said, “and you will never be bored.”
Polk returned to the Upper School in 2003 where she has been imparting such nuggets of wisdom since. She became the English Department Head upon her arrival and maintained her position for 11 years. Although the classes and electives she taught were always changing, she most enjoyed working with the 9th grade.
“I get a charge out of the 9th graders. They are hilarious, but at the same time, they need to learn so much. It is really gratifying to take them from the beginning, in September, to now,” Polk said.
This idea of continual progress and academic growth is central to both Polk’s teaching and learning philosophy. One of the facets of SPA that she appreciates most is its robust faculty development programs.
“SPA has a wonderful professional development program. It’s the educational environment for the adult, as well as the kid, so that keeps you fresh,” she said.
Polk will also miss the stimulus of her academic setting.
“It’s not easy beyond life in an educational institution to find people who want to talk about novels or books or big ideas… That’s one thing that academia allows.”
Although she acknowledges the things she is leaving behind, Polk has a lot to look forward to in retirement including “not getting up at 6:30. And a little more freedom. Being able to read what I want to read.”
As she looks forward to sleeping later and reading her favorite books, Polk is staying present for her remaining weeks at SPA. If there’s one thing that she appreciates, it is the process, which is why looking out of her ninth grade classroom and watching the construction is so rewarding–there is so much opportunity in the promises of what comes next.