We wish to make one thing clear: The Tavern is a completely student-run publication. We are a thoughtpaper made by students, for students interested learning outside the boundaries of their own institutions. Yes, we are students: everyday we walk into our classrooms, sit around Harkness tables, and engage in exhilarating discussions with not only our peers, but also our teachers. Although students contribute to the heart of the discussions, teachers are still a crucial presence in any classroom. Whether they are sharing their wisdom or serving as mediators in heated debates, teachers foster our knowledge, passion, and humanity—there is always something we can learn from them. For these reasons, starting this issue,The Tavern staff has decided to include teacher interviews.
Panel members conduct "Ten Minute T(ea)" interviews with teachers they deem to be especially beloved and respected by their respective institutions. The interview takes place over a cup of tea in the span of ten minutes. The interview is recorded and later transcribed by the interviewer. We hope that, by reading through these interviews, our readers will be able to gain special insight on intentional ignorance, insight that can only be brewed from experience and age.
Ten Minute T(ea) with Dr. Szu-Hui Lee
Interview conducted by Bianca Beck, Phillips Exeter Academy
February 24, 2018
Q: What do you think “self-love” means? How would “self-love” or “self-care” apply to the life of an Exonian?
A: Let’s start with the basics, which I think are universal to everyone. Part of “self-love” is making sure that you’re resting, because everyone needs to sleep. Research tells us that teenagers need an average of nine and a half hours of sleep every night, because teenagers’ brains are still developing. You need sleep to regenerate.
Second is food. Every nutritionist will tell you that you need three meals a day with two snacks in between. So every three to four hours we should be fueling our bodies. Exonians have high demands of their bodies to perform well, not only in the classroom but also in sports and in relationships. Remember, your machine is your body. If you’re expecting your body to operate at peak performance, then you got to take care of your body just like you would take care of a car: you’ve got to give it gas, you’ve got to change the oil from time to time. That’s the same thing with our bodies: you’ve got to sleep, and you’ve got to eat.
The next thing I would say that is universal to everyone is exercise. Research tells us that even twenty minutes of exercise a day will not only have positive short term effects but also positive long term effects. It helps you feel better by releasing endorphins, it helps you clear your head, and it helps you concentrate and focus better when you need to. These are all the things that help someone be a good, productive student. So, those are the three basic things that make up the foundation of “self-love”: sleep, healthy diet, and exercise.
People can also get creative from there. For somebody, self-love may mean that they read a book that they love, every day. For someone else, self-love may mean that they get to paint or sketch. For someone else it may mean that they get to sing, or listen to music, or play an instrument. For another person self-love could mean connecting with other people, and spending time socializing. Self-love could mean anything! It gives people room to be creative.
What I worry a lot about with students who are under high stress is how they take care of themselves, and the lack of self-love. For example, not sleeping, eating junk or just not eating at all. They fuel their bodies with things that are not healthy for them. We also know that students are not taking good care of themselves when they’re indulging in substances. Some kids feel like they need to drink, or smoke (e.g., juul); whatever they feel like they need to do in order to self-medicate. Those are all examples of a lack of self-love because they’re not taking care of their bodies.
Q: Where do you think the line is between expressing “self-love” in a healthy and unhealthy way? For instance, some students will buy themselves a pint of ice cream in reward for taking a really hard test; they call that “self-love,” even though we all know that eating a pint of ice cream in one sitting isn’t healthy.
A: There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself! I think we all deserve motivation or celebration along the way, especially in high school where there’s a lot of delayed gratification: your diploma comes in four years, your grades come out after the term is over, your graded paper isn’t returned to you for a few weeks. There’s a lot of delayed gratification, so we have to figure out ways to celebrate, acknowledge, and take a break in the meantime. I think it’s okay to go grab a pint of your favorite ice cream and appreciate it. The problem is if that is your only strategy: if every time you’re upset, feel down, or want to celebrate you go to that pint of ice cream. Then we have a problem. We all need a wide range of ways to fulfill ourselves and to celebrate, and not simply rely on that one go-to thing, or person.
Q: Do you think Exonians have time for self-love at Exeter?
A: Yes, but they have to make it a priority. Everybody gets 24 hours a day, and the way Exeter is, those 24 hours can easily be taken up by work. It’s easy for us to tell ourselves that we don’t have time to do this, or we don’t have time to do that. But, it’s important that people make time and prioritize self-care and self-love. If you don’t, it can impact everything else that you’re working hard on. When I work with Exonians, one of the first things that go out the window is sleep. Exonians will say to themselves, “Oh, I have this paper I need to finish, I’ll stay up and write this. I can catch up on sleep over the weekend.” The problem is that when people are sleep deprived, they’re not going to think clearly, their problem solving skills are not going to be as sharp, and their reaction time is going to be delayed. You need all these skills to be a good student, so it’s actually counterproductive not to prioritize self-care. People, students specifically, need to prioritize and make time to take care of themselves, even if they tell themselves that they don’t have time.
Q: Do you think the school should make more time for self-love? Or is making time for self-love all on you?
A: No, I think we all have that responsibility – the school and each of us individually. The school has made great efforts to helping students have more balance in their days. At Phillips Exeter we have times like Advisory block, or Meditation to pause in our busy day and reflect, or check in with each other. Our start time used to be earlier, but PEA made a conscious decision to start at 8 am instead so that people have more time to sleep. We used to have Saturday classes every Saturday; one of the motivations behind changing that was that the school thought that students and faculty should have more of a full weekend, to be able to relax and have balance in their lives. We continue to look at how we can do things differently, including potentially shortening our school days, to allow more flexibility and time for things people are passionate about outside of the classroom.
I hope that students and school communities do a better job at making sure that they have time for self-love. Faculty and staff need to take care of themselves, too. So do parents. If everybody is modeling “self-love” then it becomes more of a cultural norm.
Dr. Lee is a Psychologist at PEA and has worked at the Academy for four years.