Over his 41 years as an educator, John Lin has seemingly done it all. He’s been an English teacher, dean of students, and head of school. He’s worked at a range of different institutions, from Phillips Academy to San Francisco Day School to School Year Abroad in Rennes, France. And he has also helped foster important diversity initiatives in secondary education, from mentoring new administrators of color to serving as a faculty member at the People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference, both run by the National Association of Independent Schools.
With John set to retire this spring, we asked him to sit down for a wide-ranging conversation about teaching, learning, and his plans for the future. Like most conversations with John – who first came to Holderness in the summer of 2010 with his wife and fellow English teacher Marilee Lin – it was a freewheeling, philosophical exchange that touched on topics as varied as the role of teachers, the Wizard of Oz, and the meaning of life. Here’s just some of what he had to say.
On the job of teachers
“I think the goal of us all as teachers is to ignite the natural curiosity you have in you. It’s about to be lit – it’s all ready to go – we just have to provide you something.”
“For me, I don’t have a clear end post. I didn’t have 12 things I needed to do before I retired or died, or whatever. I think it’s just so much more amorphous or abstract. I would love to think that as I leave teaching that maybe some of the things I’ve said to my students over these years has helped them to discover some things about themselves and the world around them.”
Finding meaning in life
“With my seniors, I ask them ‘What are you moving towards? What have you moved your whole life towards?’ There’s no thing there. It’s like the Wizard of Oz. I said, ‘You guys watch the Wizard of Oz. What happened when they got to the end of the Yellow Brick Road and they were hoping for some thing? When the curtain parts, what did they find?’ One girl in the classroom said ‘That he was an ordinary guy.’ I said, ‘So what do you think the moral of that story is? What do you think about this? That at the end of your search, that all you found was something ordinary, would you be disappointed? Would you feel like you gave too much and didn’t get enough back, somehow? That there’s a quid pro quo, a balancing of an equation that you need to end with more or at least equal the amount? That there’s always a balancing? Is it a game you have to win? How do you know if you have to win?’”
John’s day-to-day retirement plans
“I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing. I’ll try not to be too much of a pain in the neck for Marilee. I think we’re getting a puppy this summer so I will be head number one dog trainer and dog walker. This will be the best-trained Labrador Retriever ever, in our lives. I’ve been cooking a lot more.”
His continuing role as an educator - outside of private schools
“I went to public high school and I’m a person who historically has not been served by these schools as a Chinese American – an American-born Chinese person - not even an international person. The international community is highly served by these schools. I think in retirement I also want to maybe be in touch with a slightly different constituent group locally – whether it’s local students through Mountain Village [Mountain Village Charter School in Plymouth], whether it’s other students in need globally, however I might be able to leverage whatever I have, the experience I have in my life to help other people, that’s what I’m going to do… As I go towards something else, I think that it’s just more of the same but it’s a different group. It’s just less defined, it’s less given to me. I have to go seek it in a slightly different way.”