Valentina Alencar Barros ’22 interviewed Learning Resource Center Director (LRC) Dr. Andrew Rhein, who started at TASIS in the fall of 2019 and believes the LRC can serve as a valuable resource for any student who wishes to improve academically.
Can you please briefly describe your educational background and your career in education prior to coming to TASIS this year?
I grew up about 25 miles west of Boston in a town called Framingham, and went to a large public high school that didn’t look anything like this; there were probably around 350 people in each grade. But I loved it.
After high school, I went to a small liberal arts college in Maine called Colby College, where I was an American Studies major. I had an English professor there who was a mentor to me, and that’s when I decided I wanted to be a college professor like him.
I graduated from Colby and actually started graduate school in English Literature. On the side, I was teaching at a school that specialized in kids with severe emotional and behavioral difficulties. It was a fascinating place to work. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was a lot more interested in the problems of the kids whom I was working with than I was in my English Lit classes. I still wanted to be a college professor, but I decided to focus on child psychology.
I spent a year working for a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and then I applied to and was fortunate enough to get into Boston University’s doctoral program in Clinical Psychology, ultimately earning both a Master’s and a Ph.D. in Psychology.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that while teaching at the college level was fun, working at an independent school would allow me to wear more “hats”—teaching, coaching, advising, and admin—and do more things I enjoy. Since then, I have taught at a number of private schools. For a few years, I ran the Learning Center at the Madeira School, an all-girls boarding school in the Washington, D.C. area. After that, I spent nine years as the Director of Counseling and Wellness at the Landon School, an all-boys private school in Bethesda, Maryland. And then I came to TASIS.
What goals do you have as director of the Learning Resource Center (LRC)?
I really want the Learning Resource Center to be a well-understood resource for the whole community here. It’s funny—a lot of schools in the States and across the world have Learning Resource Centers, but it seems that no two of them are run in the same way. Many students and parents—and even teachers—don’t know what actually happens at a school’s Learning Resource Center. So one of my main goals is to clarify the work that we do so that the whole community understands the services that we provide. I understand that this Center is always going to have its primary focus on students with learning disorders. But ultimately, I also want this to be a place that supports any student who simply wants to do better. And a place where any teacher or parent can come to talk about teaching and learning.
Can you please describe your educational philosophy in 100 words or less?
My educational philosophy—one of them at least—is that every subject can be interesting. Back in the day, when I was in middle school and high school, I used to be one of those people who loved English and history but absolutely hated math and science. I assumed that I didn’t have the kind of brain for those subjects. But as I got older, and met teachers and lecturers who inspired me, those subjects—and their application to real life—began to make sense to me. So to me, the right teacher can make any subject interesting. And I aspire to be that kind of teacher.
What is your philosophy of living?
It’s going to sound cheesy, but it’s actually my High School Yearbook quote: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” That’s Aesop. It’s sort of a small, simple concept that I think about all the time, and we try to live that mantra in my family because the small things matter, and they add up over time. I’m also partial to a quote by Jacques Cousteau that states, “When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.”
What do you like most about working at TASIS so far?
It is unendingly interesting to be here. The setting is unique, the students are unique, and the way the day is set up here is unique. In many ways this place feels very familiar because I am used to students and being on a campus, but the people here are quirky and adventurous in a way that I have never experienced before. I have lived in some wonderful places—Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, DC—and those are major, diverse metropolitan areas, but I have never been in a place like this. It’s funny—an experienced farmer can tell the health of the soil that he grows things in by the things that are in it. I think of schools that way. When I walk through this place and see it filled with teachers, students, dogs, and children running around, it feels like a very healthy “soil” to be growing in.
What is your view on high school students in general, and in which ways do you think they need the LRC?
High school is a fascinating game, and most people don’t pay enough attention to the strategy of playing it. In general, a typical high schooler is required to take a specific gauntlet of courses—math, science, language, English, history, and art. There is some variation, of course, and even a little choice, but at the end of the day, each boy and girl has to take a similar variety of courses, whether those courses interest them or not. And all of those classes get graded, and after about three and a half years of it, a college admissions officer is going to look at those grades and make a decision.
High school is also really busy. There is a long to-do list every day, and only so many hours in the day to get things done. So there is a lot of pressure to perform well in a finite period of time. And that’s where the LRC comes in. We’re like personal trainers, but instead of helping with physical fitness we’re helping with academic fitness.
Picture a coach. He may have a kid on his team who is really athletic, but who doesn’t understand the rules of the game or how to train properly. So that kid has potential, but he doesn’t really play the game well. I think of school that way—full of kids who are really smart, but who don’t understand the specific expectations of each class or how to study properly. And that’s where we come in. We’re the coaches who help students figure out the “rules” of each class—how it’s structured, what it covers, how it’s graded, etc.—and how to prepare properly. That’s important because ultimately, every person has a learning difference, and every person has different strengths and weaknesses and intrinsic interests. To have an academic coach who can help you figure all of that out can be huge. An office like this can help students determine what to do in order to perform well, and to do so consistently.
How were you as a high school student?
When I was in high school, I might as well have been wearing camouflage. I got As and Bs, I was on a varsity team (wrestling, which I was terrible at), and I was quiet. I loved high school, though. I was happy. But if I’m honest I have to say that if I didn’t have two loud and confident brothers, you might not even have noticed me there.
But I was friendly—I got along with everyone, and I had (and have) a healthy and happy family. It’s funny because my high school was nothing like TASIS. It was this big, grey, rectangular concrete building with small windows, but when I look back at my high school days my memories are all warm, funny, and positive.
Do you see some of yourself in TASIS students?
That’s an interesting question! I was never as effortlessly elegant and sophisticated as students here seem to be. I mean, everyone is so worldly and speaks multiple languages, and they’re all in these sharp school uniforms. I was nothing like that, although I like to think that I was like them in some other ways. There are constantly little moments in the day when students are being creative or funny, or something interesting happens, or when I see students being kind to one another, that remind me of myself. Or how I hope that I was. One of the reasons why I like working at a school is because I stay connected to who I was as a student—and I always liked being a student.
Which famous figure inspires your philosophy of living?
I am tempted to be profound here and mention famous figures whom I admire! There are certainly a few. But I am going to cheat a little and tell you that the people who inspire me and my philosophy of living are my parents. My mom and dad work incredibly hard, and they have always been selfless, funny, warm, and pleasant. They are really good people. I am very lucky that way.
My wife inspires me because she is lovely and graceful, and she’s also absolutely fearless and selfless. My kids inspire me because they are adventurous and authentic and kind. My sister and my brothers inspire me because they are genuinely good people who try to do good in the world. So those are the people I think of every day—my family.
Which place that you’ve visited has most inspired you and fulfilled you as a human being?
I have been to some cool places and feel tempted to give you something exotic, but it’s Boston. It’s where I grew up—it sounds trite, but that city is in my blood. My home and my heart are always going to be where my family is, and right now my family is in Lugano. But when I think of home in terms of where I’m from, and in terms of where much of my family still is, it’s back in New England. I have been fortunate to have visited and lived in some beautiful places (including this one), and am seeing more and more, but the place that truly fulfills me is my city of Boston.
That’s where the LRC comes in. We’re like personal trainers, but instead of helping with physical fitness we’re helping with academic fitness.
Could you describe your most life-changing experience?
I am going to sound incredibly cliché. One was leaving home for college, which was a big deal because I had never been away from my family like that. Then meeting my wife, getting married, learning that we were going to have kids, and actually having kids. Those may sound like everyday things, but they were all places where my life changed, and while I’ve had some pretty cool experiences, I can’t think of anything else that has been more meaningful for me.
Is there anything you think people need to know about you as an educator?
I went to school for a long time—high school, undergrad, then six years of grad school, followed by a predoctoral internship and postdoctoral fellowship. And I’ve worked in schools for a long time. None of that is meant to sound arrogant. Rather, I say that because over all of that time there has been a lot that I have learned that I have found useful, and an awful lot that I haven’t found useful at all.
The best things that I have learned along the way have been rooted in common sense, and I am always trying to find common-sense ways to help students. I also think that it’s important for students to know that I am the same person at school as I am at the dinner table—I don’t have different personas for different places. And finally, people should know that I love this work; I am in a field that I truly love.
How do you build a relationship of trust with students?
My last school, which I have a great deal of affection for, had a teacher/coach/mentor model. That meant that everybody taught, everybody coached a sport for one or more seasons, and everybody served as an advisor to students. And I think that the more that students get to see you in different roles like that, the more trust you can build in your relationships with them. At the end of the day, the most important aspect of any school is the authentic interpersonal relationships that are developed there. That’s what makes it actually feel like a special place—a community, kind of like an extended family. Without those human connections, a school like this is just a bunch of pretty buildings with people inside of them. We don’t have that teacher/coach/mentor model here at TASIS, but there seems to be a collective effort to develop those relationships, and I want to be part of that effort. I am going to do everything I can to be involved in the students’ lives so that they know who I am and what I’m about.