Faculty Friday: Brian Phillips '98, Upper School - Environmental Science, STEAM

Brian Phillips ’98 has been teaching at Rabun Gap since the 06-07 school year. He has a B.S. degree in Environmental Studies from Montreat College and an MSSE (Master of Science and Science Education) degree from Montana State University in Bozeman. He teaches Environmental Science, AP Environmental Science and STEAM in the Upper School. He is also part of the dorm faculty, drives busses regularly for the school, heads up a season of STEAM during afternoon activities and leads outdoor experiences throughout the year. Brian's favorite hobby is kayaking and he has worked as a guide and instructor in the San Juan Islands and on our local wild and scenic Chattooga River.

How did you end up becoming a teacher at Rabun Gap? I was always a very shy person growing up. My worst fear was getting up in front of people (of any age) and attempting to lead them. When I came to Rabun Gap, I had just finished a seasonal position as a sea kayak guide in Washington State and I was looking for my next source of income. A dorm parent left part way through the year and I was offered the position. I worked in Bellingrath dorm as the head dorm parent for several months and at the end of the year I found out that my old Environmental Science teacher was moving on. I took it as a sign. I had a degree in Environmental Science and there was an opening to teach the subject. Twelve years later I’ve decided that there is really nothing to be afraid of.

How do you define good teaching? I feel that good teaching must include humility and humor. As a science teacher, I am painfully aware that I don’t have all of the answers. I try to be open with my students about my lack of knowledge when I encounter something that I don’t know much about. If we knew everything already, why would we need science? I also find that using humor helps me keep the attention of my students. When the students are anxiously awaiting my next lame joke, they accidently hear content material.

What is the most difficult aspect of teaching today? Technology: It can be amazingly helpful, but it can also create a huge distraction. Did you know that 67% of the people reading this teacher feature will be distracted by their cell phone before getting to this question? Actually, I just made up that statistic. Someone should research this and find out what the real statistics are.  

What is the greatest success you have had in teaching? My greatest success in teaching was making it through my first year. I felt nervous my whole first year and I wasn’t sure if I was helping anyone. I decided to give it another shot and now teaching feels very rewarding. When I see students who are doing well in college, have successful jobs and careers and who are raising their own children, I feel proud to have shaped those people in some small way.

What was different from the Rabun Gap you graduated from and today’s Rabun Gap? Where do I begin? The A&T was just a field; I practiced basketball in what is now the lower school; when a soccer ball was kicked out of bounds, someone had to go through an electric fence and retrieve it from the cow pasture; band class was in the Student Commons and it only consisted of wind instruments and percussion; students mowed the fields, drove tractors, washed dishes, cleaned the classrooms, stained furniture, etc.; there are four times as many students now; I was a student instead of a teacher; and Mr. Malot… well… no, Mr. Malot was pretty much the same.

What was the greatest lesson Rabun Gap taught you that you are teaching the students today? Rabun Gap was, and is, the most diverse place in the Southern Appalachians. What I learned as a student that I am passing on today is the fact that all over the world we are different, but we are all the same. No matter where you are from, there are rich people and poor people. There are educated people and uneducated people. There are times of sadness and times of joy. No matter where we are from, how wealthy or educated we are, no matter what we look like, we all share our basic humanity and we all deserve respect

How do you see the STEAM Department developing in the upcoming years? I think the basic engineering process that we emphasize will remain a core aspect of STEAM, but the STEAM building will become more of a place where any class can utilize the space and equipment to enhance imaginative and collaborative projects. For those projects, I will help the teachers by ensuring that the materials they need are available and I will ensure the safe use of the equipment in the shop.

What is one of your weaknesses, and how are you working to improve it? Everyone at Rabun Gap is busy. I am constantly impressed with the ability of many of my colleagues to balance teaching, dorm life, after school activities, raising their own children and, in some cases, being students themselves. I constantly feel like at least one of these areas in my life is suffering and needs attention. Grading seems to be the weakness that most consistently comes to the top. To improve, I try to find another aspect of my life that can take a back seat for a while until I finish my grading.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom? For now and the foreseeable future, my kids are the interest that I pursue outside of the classroom. I feel very blessed that my kids are able to attend the same school where I work. In the summers we get to spend a lot of time fishing, paddling and traveling together.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone? I’ve backpacked over 3,000 miles and spent a total of about a year of my life living in a tent.

What inspires you? Other teachers and the beauty of this place we call home.

As an alum, what are the biggest advantages, or perhaps disadvantages teaching at the school that you attended? Not only did I go to Rabun Gap, but I also grew up in Rabun County. As a result, I feel like I have a deep appreciation for the history of the school and the area in general. I also know some really great places to share with students on outdoor trips. I don’t know if this counts as an advantage or not. As far as disadvantages go, my home growing up was remote enough that we did not have television, so I don’t get a lot of references to tv shows in the 80’s and 90’s. But, in the midst of what I refer to as my “Wonder Years”, while I was experiencing growing pains like everybody else, I still got to see how my parents dealt with being married with children. And even though we had a pretty full house, I was still able to make the quantum leap into these happy days of adulthood.  Sometimes I do feel that maybe I was just saved by the bell.
Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School is a private, coeducational day and boarding school for grades Pre-K through 12, located in Rabun Gap, GA. Centrally located between Atlanta, GA, Greenville, SC, and Asheville, NC, we combine our strong academic program, mountain setting, and Presbyterian heritage to inspire young people who are eager to learn and grow.

Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School does not discriminate regardless of race, color, religion, gender, disability, creed, or national origin.