Series: Faculty & Staff Spotlights

Tutor Spotlight: Mr. Haflidson

Posted on behalf of Yunju Park

Tutor Spotlight – Mr. Haflidson

Basic information about yourself that you want to share (ex. When did you start teaching at St. John’s College, what did you study before coming to SJC, Are you a cat person or dog person. Etc)

I began teaching at St. John’s in 2014. I have a BA in Classics and Early Modern Studies, a MA in Religious Studies, and a PhD in Christian Theology. My dissertation for my PhD was on Augustine, whom we read in Sophomore Year. He makes two claims about love that really excited me that I wanted to explore further: first, that all real virtues are forms of love; and, second, that God’s eternal nature consists in the giving and receiving of love. In my dissertation I explored how these two claims are related to each other.

Immediately before coming to St. John’s I was teaching in a Great Books program at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. I was a student in that program. King’s shares many similarities with St. John’s, though St. John’s is (gloriously) weirder.

1.    Tell me about your journey to come to St. John’s! Why did you choose to teach here?

The short answer: I love learning. I remember when I was a kid I used to arrange all of my stuffed animals in a circle and I would read stories to them. (How adorable was I?) Obviously I was trying to re-create my favorite period in school, when the teacher would read to us. Kids being kids, during story-time we didn’t just listen silently, but we had an on-going dialogue with the book and with each other about the book. I especially loved when we were all really into a book and we couldn’t wait for the teacher to turn the page. (One of my best friends, Tyler, sometimes got so excited before the page-turn that he would wet himself.) Thirty years later, it turns out my dream job here at the college is not that different from story-time.

Having said that, the various breaks that I took in my education came from crises I was having about whether this kind of learning is self-indulgent. In my senior year of college and during the first year of my masters I felt that especially. At various points I decided to give up on working in higher education to pursue instead some career that more directly helped people, including: arts therapist, doctor, psychiatrist, political activist, psychologist, special education teacher, priest, etc. Ultimately I decided to stick with a career in education because I became convinced that what happens in the class-room can open us up to seeing ourselves and the world differently. And when we see ourselves and the world differently, that creates the possibility of us acting in it differently too. I’m all for various arguments that say education is an end-in-itself (shout out to Uncle Aristotle here!), but it has been essential for me to see how education can not only bring me joy, but is also a means to living a more just life. All this to say: when I was looking for jobs, I was only dimly aware of St. John’s, but when I learned more it immediately became my number one choice. I think the college has bucked all sorts of trends to ensure that the classrooms here include, on a daily basis, the kinds of conversations that demand we do look at ourselves and the world differently.

2.    What are the things that you care about when you are leading a class?

I think classes work best at St. John’s when we’re paying attention to some thing together. That “thing”, of course, can be a proposition, or a piece of music, or a cow heart, or a sentence, or a question, or an idea, or an experience a character has, or a passage in a text, etc. Whatever it is, when we’re all paying attention together, we see more together than we could have by ourselves. I love the feeling of momentum developing in a class when first one person says something s/he noticed, and then another person adds to it, and it moves on from there. By the end of a good class, to borrow a metaphor from a Santa Fe colleague, what we’ve been paying attention to has added dimensions to it because we’ve seen it together. With that in mind, I care that all students feel at home enough in the classroom to say what they’re thinking and also that we as class are receptive to what is offered by others.

3.    Can you share your recent Aha moment?

In our Odyssey seminar last week we spent quite a while discussing a scene in Book XIX in which Penelope (uncharacteristically) talks at length and describes her situation with an extended metaphor about a nightingale and she also shares a dream she had. Her use of the metaphor reminded us of the kinds of metaphors that Homer himself uses throughout The Odyssey. That thought led to the question of whether Homer might feel some sort of deep connection to Penelope. I found that a very exciting thought. And it would make sense of Agamemnon’s claim, from the afterlife, in Book XXIV that Penelope would be known throughout the world because of a poem that would be written about her. Despite its name, might Penelope be Homer’s real love in The Odyssey?   

4.    When a class gets chaotic, frustrating, or tense, how do you handle it as a tutor?

Not always well. Things I think can work when things are not going well: It seems to me that sometimes things aren’t going well because we are feeling utterly confused or overwhelmed by a subject (shout out to Uncle Ptolemy here!). I think simply acknowledging that’s how we feel can itself be a start. Humor is also a good thing. A stupid joke or a random bit of silliness can alter the mood of the room and restore a sense of play to what we’re up to. I think taking ourselves too seriously can be a real barrier to learning, especially at the college where we’re tackling either nearly impossible or very difficult things every day. Also I think sometimes trying to take a different angle on a subject we’ve been wrestling with for a while can be productive. Finally, I learn a lot about what is going on in the class—especially if things aren’t going so well—from talking to students one-on-one. Paper conferences can be enormously helpful to check-in and see what is working for people and what isn’t.

I’m always looking for advice on this question, so if anyone has it, please share!

5.    Do you have a goal for this academic year, if so, what is it?

A few goals:

Small goal: I sang in Freshman Chorus last year, and there is one part near the end of Sicut Cervus that I still mess up on every time (with apologies to my tenor-comrades). I’d like to get that down.

Big goal: I’m tutoring Freshman Language for the first time. I studied Greek about 18 years ago and I was horrible at it. I’m hoping to take advantage of this second chance to learn Greek.

Biggest goal: I also want to try to pause more regularly throughout my day to be grateful for all the gifts that this place offers to me on a daily basis. This is a truly remarkable community. I think the demands the program places on us, and the inevitable tensions and conflicts that arise when spending so much time with other people, can blind me to just what a remarkable place this is and how profoundly lucky I am to be here.

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