#9 Debating in the Classroom with Tim Averill

Tim Averill

HS English Teacher (Waring School, MA), AP Community Moderator, St. Johnsbury Summer Academy Facilitator


January Contest: Win a Copy of Carol Jago’s With Rigor for All by emailing me a lesson that worked (email)


 Segment I – Background and Inspiration

Tell your story. Where are you from and how long have you been teaching? What classes have you taught? tim

– Tim has taught for 44 years at Manchester Essex RHS and, most recently, The Waring School. He grew up in Topeka, KS went to Kansas University, where he obtained a French and English degree, and then Harvard for graduate school. He worked at Manchester from 1971-2005, where he also coached Debate.  The Waring School is a bi-lingual school where all students learn French and travel to France.

 Who has helped you in your journey to become a master teacher?

– He believes that example is a great teacher because he had great professors at Kansas University who inspired him. While in Springfield, Harvard had assigned him a master teacher to work with him and that was of great benefit. At Manchester, a couple of colleagues took him under their wing and helped him develop as a teacher. A supportive spouse is also helpful to be there for you when you have good days and bad days. 

It is important for other teachers to know that we all have had setbacks in the classroom. Identify an instance in which you struggled as a teacher and explain what you learned from that experience.

– Tim has had plenty of examples where he thought something would go well and it didn’t. While in Springfield, some kids from another school came over unannounced to visit. Tim relied on his students to tell them that they were not welcome and his students did not side with him. It was an unsetting for him, yet his colleagues reminded him that his students are not going to side with a rookie teacher when there are friends are around. He reminded us that when a lesson goes wrong, we often have the tendency to believe that the failure is a reflection on us,  when it can be a reflection of the material. 

Why teach English and the Language Arts?

– It is a way for students to know themselves. The purpose of education is for students to get to know themselves, yet Tim believes we are far too career-oriented in education right now.  Too frequently we are teaching them that their value in society is based on what they can produce and consume.


What is one thing that you love about the classroom?

 – Taking students to debate and seeing their joy of discovery when they feel empowered. His job as a teacher is to be less and less important as the year goes on because they’ve gained the confidence to think independently. 

Segment II — Digging into the Teacher Bag of Goodies


 What book do you recommend to a developing teacher?

— This may date him as a teacher but Death at Early Age by Jonathan Kozol and Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman. 

What is one thing a teacher can do outside the classroom that can pay off inside the classroom?
 – Participate as much as possible in the culture of the kids. Be at the basketball games, chaperone the dances, volunteer for after-school activities.   

 Is there an internet resource that you can recommend which will help teachers grow professionally?

 The AP Community. It has 8,775 members. Every teacher can join the community.

What can a teacher can do to make students better writers?

 – Have students publish their work. Publishing can be as simple as having them read it aloud or enter it into a contest but it makes an assignment exist beyond the teacher and beyond a grade. 

Update the cannon. What new work should be included in the school curriculum?

 A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving is a novel that he was overjoyed to see on recent AP exams. For non-fiction Tim likes the memoir, I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place, by Howard Norman. The House of Sand and Fog is another novel, yet since there is a movie for it, he is less willing to teach it.