This week’s #FeatureFriday highlights Director of Physical Education Linda Houghland. After 41 years, Linda will be retiring at the end of this school year.
Linda brought a depth of experience and a palpable passion for teaching to our school community for decades. We cannot thank her enough for her dedication.
Read more in the interview below about Linda's background and start to her career at Far Hills.
Legend has it that you lived the “yachty life” before you came to FH. Let’s start there. Any truth to this?
- Linda’s eyes twinkled as she spoke, ”One of my best friends was a stewardess on a yacht that traveled from Ft. Lauderdale to Europe. When the voyage was over, one of the stews suddenly quit, and my friend told me about the job opening. I just flew over there and hoped and prayed that I would get this job, and I did! I spent a few months as a Stew but felt I needed to go home to look for a teaching job. The owner said, ‘We’d love to have you come to Greece with us.’ I said, “No, I have to go home and find a teaching job,” to which he replied, ‘You can teach any time in your life, but you only get to go to Greece on my boat once.’ How could I possibly argue with that? Everyone asks me if it was like the show “Below Deck.” It was similar but better. I worked for the yacht owners from London on their boat that was rarely chartered. When you work for the owners, it’s totally different than “Below Deck.” I was blessed. They were wonderful; they had cool guests all the time. I was busy, but the guests were just day guests. I came home after Thanksgiving, and good friends of my parents saw an ad for a job opening at Far Hills. When I called about it, the school secretary said they had stopped interviewing and were preparing to make an offer to someone. I was devastated. Then, my father, who was Athletic Director and Biology Teacher at Morristown-Beard, mentioned he knew a fellow science teacher at FH. He asked her if she would be willing to put in a good word with the headmaster. She did more than that—she gave me a great reference and convinced him to interview one more candidate. And that was that.”
Tell us about the biggest challenge you faced when you joined Far Hills?
- “I started in the middle of the school year when I came. And Ginny Confer’s husband, Gary, was the PE teacher with me. He had a very dry sense of humor (and I was too new to understand that). He said to me, ‘Here’s what’s going to make or break you as a new teacher. You have a massive gym show to put on, and if it’s good, the parents will like you, and if it’s not, they won’t.’ I didn’t know him at all, and I certainly didn’t know him to be a jokester. And it was all I could think about. I had the weight of the world on my head. I had to come up with a “show.” Think about that many grade levels to manage. Every child was in it—boys and girls. But I loved gymnastics and dance. That was my thing. We did a parachute routine, ribbon routine, dance, gymnastics, and tumbling— everything. It was wonderful. It was huge. Great fun.”
So, what was the parents’ verdict?
- Linda laughed easily, “They liked me.” Probably next to Graduation and the Holiday Concert, the gym show attracted the largest audience and was one of the parents’ most favorite.”
What else are you proud of?
- One of the big things I did was bring a 7-8 piece fitness challenge course in the big grassy area that is now the US parking lot. It was magnificent. It was very cool. Years later, when they changed the campus around, we built the one that stands just beyond the parking lot. That was my thing—bringing that element to PE here. One of the points I made in a presentation pitch was that independent school kids, at that time, were big soccer and hockey players who needed to build their upper body strength. They listened. I always advocate for my kids. Always. Kids don’t play outdoors, organically, as much as they used to. They lead very scheduled “play date” lives with no room for pickup games. At recess, we let the kids be. Someone once suggested an organized recess, and I said, “No, let them figure it out. Let them negotiate. Play in the dirt and the rocks. Let them. Let them explore. Let them be creative.”
We’ve been talking a lot about “Aha!” learning moments at Far Hills this year. Do you have one you can share?
- An example of a lesson learned many times over was when, recently, teammates became frustrated with one another in the middle of a game. Each girl did not realize her tone of voice had changed, and the volume had risen because they were all running and playing hard. Though the girls weren’t “yelling” at each other, it had the same effect. A team of high-level athletes is likely to lose if they aren’t getting along on the field. United, we stand. Divided, we fall. And they lost. The Aha! learning moment started in the locker room after the game when we talked through what I had observed. It was the first time in a long while where I could actually see the girls intently take in the words. They ended up talking through the issues that had come up earlier in the game. Not only did they feel better immediately about themselves and each other as a team; but, they immediately changed their behavior. They were more aware of being unified and the power that comes with it. They started to win. They really weren’t aware that they had raised their voices on the field that day. But they recognized the opportunity to change. And they did in a big way. The lesson I always try to impart to my students is that we are likely to face teams that are better than us in some regard. Play your best, and play your best together. Earn the respect of one another, the coaches, officials, and other teams. Find the gratitude and joy in that. That’s the philosophy of all our sports teams. One girl asked, “What if we lose?” There’s always a chance of losing. You don’t always win. It’s real life. We teach real-life skills here. And it’s been my pleasure.
“Play your best, and play your best together. Earn the respect of one another, the coaches, officials, and other teams. Find the gratitude and joy in that.”