Striving to Be Better
“It’s been perfect timing to motivate me to want to pursue teaching as a career, and to help me in my current role as Middle School dean.”
Prior to his arrival at Williston in 2005, Andrew Syfu had not given much thought to a career in education. A graduate of Amherst College, where he majored in political science and excelled as a soccer and lacrosse player, he was hired right out of school to coach Williston’s varsity lacrosse team. “I had always pictured myself in boarding schools,” explains Andrew, who attended Loomis Chaffee for four years. “I just didn’t know in what capacity.”
Now an eighth-grade history and civics teacher and Middle School dean, Andrew credits his growth as an educator in part to Williston’s professional development program. He first took advantage of the offerings as a new teacher, when over three summers he enrolled in week-long seminars through the Center for Civic Education to improve his understanding of his subject. “Every time I was done with each of those seminars, I felt a lot more confident going into the school year,” he recalls.
And for the past two years, he has been earning his Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership at Mount Holyoke College, through the joint degree program developed in partnership with Williston. To do so, he has stepped back his coaching responsibilities this year, trading his longtime role as head lacrosse coach to take an assistant position (he is also assistant varsity soccer coach).
“I’ve loved it,” says Andrew. “It’s probably the most rewarding professional development I’ve gone through and has helped my teaching the most. As an undergrad, not having taken any courses on pedagogy, or theory of learning, or any of those core courses you take for an education degree, it was enlightening to learn what a traditional teacher would learn and combine that with the knowledge that I have now. It’s been perfect timing to motivate me to want to pursue teaching as a career, and to help me in my current role as Middle School dean.”
Another source of motivation is his wife, Christa Talbot Syfu ’98, Williston’s associate director of admissions and head coach of boys cross-country and girls varsity hockey. The couple met at Williston and were married in 2013. “Seeing her operate every day with the passion and drive that she does, that motivates me to want to do my job well,” he explains. “And seeing other faculty that are passionate about teaching, teachers who knew they wanted to be teachers and are just continuing with it—those are inspiring to see. And then seeing students who are just trying their hardest, working super hard to achieve—that’s what keeps me going.”
The distinctive community of boarding schools—an aspect that Andrew appreciated as a student—now sustains him in his career as a teacher, coach, and administrator. “Having multiple opportunities to connect with kids, that’s unique in the setting that we’re in,” he says. “You see a kid in the classroom, in the dorm, on the field. Those connections can be very meaningful, a lot more meaningful than at other schools. That’s definitely a big satisfaction for me—that opportunity to have a positive influence on student’s lives.”