In January, Brian Freeman, one of Brunswick’s most accomplished and respected scholars and inspiring teachers, was appointed Chair of the English Department. He will assume the role from Brendan Gilsenan, who was recently named the co-head, with Sue Das, of the new Brunswick Teacher Institute. Brian has been part of the Brunswick community since 1997. In that time, he has made a deep impression on the School, one he looks forward to expanding as he assumes his new role. Brian spoke with us about his time at Brunswick, his love of the English language, and more.
How long have you been a member of the Brunswick community?
I first came to Brunswick to teach English in the fall of 1997; I added Greek to my teaching schedule the next year.
Tell us about your own high school English experience. What about that experience inspired you to teach the subject?
I attended The Governor’s Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts, for high school. Although I’d always loved reading and studying English and history, it was during my sophomore year there that I realized that what I really wanted to do with my life was teach English at the secondary school level. My teachers at GDA taught me so much about refining my reading and writing abilities – and they did so with so much humor, intelligence, and imagination – that I knew that I wanted to emulate them at some time in the future. When I went off to college, though, my focus changed for a while, and I ended up majoring in Classics at Wesleyan; I then went to Harvard to get my doctorate in Comparative Literature. It was while studying in Cambridge that I first started teaching as a TF in Harvard’s CORE program, and I loved the experience at once.
Tell us a bit about yourself — your education and professional life before coming to Brunswick?
For a long time, I was fully determined to teach literature at the college level. But life has a way of springing unexpected situations on you, and I found myself the victim of the horrific academic job market in the early 1990s. Pretty soon, it became clear that I had a choice: I could keep trying for a university appointment (and risk ending up at a fourth-rate college) or I could return to my initial goal, and set my sights on the private school market. A few weeks after I contacted Carney Sandoe to help me find an English job, I found myself invited to Brunswick for an interview in February, 1996; about a week later, I signed my contract and from that moment I’ve never looked back. Coming to Brunswick turned out to be the best decision I could have made.
What about your new challenge/role are you most looking forward to?
I believe the English Department is in a strong position. I have a great many talented and engaged colleagues. Brendan has done such a terrific job as chair during his tenure that I don’t feel any need to introduce a lot of changes. Instead, I really look forward to getting the chance to observe my colleagues teach, to share ideas with them, and to get the chance to learn from each of them. I’m particularly looking forward to getting to visit my peers over in the Middle School division. I hear they are doing some innovative and impressive things, and since I’ve never had the chance to do any observations at King Street, I’m sure I’ll have a lot to learn.
Aside from your time in the classroom, how do you fill your passion for the subject?
I try to stay abreast of as much recent American and British fiction as I can, and every once in a while I try my hand at writing stories, too. Someday, I hope to find the inspiration to write a novel (but I’ve been saying that for the last 30 years, and I’ve never managed to finish anything). I try to keep my Greek fresh as well, and last summer I put together a teaching edition of one of Xenophon’s minor dialogues.
We understand you’re a dog lover. Can you tell us the inspiration behind your dogs’ names?
My English Setters are named after characters from two of Shakespeare’s minor plays, ones that have classical resonances – Titus Andronicus and Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Perhaps fortunately, my dogs don’t display their namesakes’ personal qualities; they do keep me active and entertained!