On Their Way : Hans Buder
On Their Way is a new, occasional series, in which The Times introduces Martha's Vineyard Regional High School graduates who have moved on to establish themselves in careers on- or off-Island. We are looking for young people who have distinguished themselves by their accomplishments in business, in social services, in the military, in academics, in fact in any meaningful way you might imagine. Your suggestions will be welcomed by Nelson Sigelman or Whit Griswold, at The Times.
Like most children, Hans Buder didn't have a clear picture of what his adult life might look like, especially from the vantage point of Vineyard Haven, where he was born and raised. "It changed a lot over time," he said in a recent conversation. "I actually wanted to be a journalist for a while. When I first looked at colleges I was looking at journalism schools - Northwestern, Syracuse, USC. Writing is one of my strengths, and I wanted to be a sportswriter."
Hans played football, basketball, and ran track at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, from which he graduated in 2004, so an interest in sports writing was not surprising. "It was a way to sort of fuse my two passions," he said.
"Before I got to college [Duke University] I was so naïve, and because I was good at writing, I thought I should major in English," Hans said. But he found that there were other disciplines where writing was important, and he took advantage of the opportunities that four years at a liberal arts college can provide. "I'm actually so glad I didn't go the pre-professional route, and that I sort of let myself develop."
Over time at college, Hans became increasingly interested in politics. He did a summer internship on Capitol Hill with Senator John Kerry, and another with the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., before realizing that being a lawyer wasn't for him.
Still, Hans continued to be intrigued by politics.
"But it's a tough gig to get into, and at the moment I'm more interested in international relations," he said. He added that he could see a fit for himself either in academia or policy making, or perhaps a combination of the two.
After graduating from Duke in 2008, Hans took some time off, looking for "something that I really believed in," as he put it. "I began to focus on education as a key issue in the country." His research soon led him to Teach for America (TFA), whose mission is " to build the movement to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting our nation's most promising future leaders in the effort." TFA recruits "outstanding recent college graduates from all backgrounds and career interests to commit to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools."
In August 2005, a week into his sophomore year at Duke, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Moved by the compelling images on TV, Hans and two classmates drove to New Orleans to help out, having no idea what to expect. After talking their way past officials who were trying to keep people out of the city, they made it to the convention center where they handed out bottled water. They then ferried people out of the stricken city. "That was an experience that shaped me, and I developed an attachment to the city," Hans said.
When he applied to Teach For America, Hans made his preference to work in New Orleans known, and it worked out. "New Orleans is a high-need region, and they were actually making a specific call to get people to go there," he said. "It was and still is one of the worst school districts in the country."
The elementary school where Hans starting teaching science this fall to sixth- and seventh-graders is a charter school. "New Orleans is actually the heaviest chartered school district in the U.S., and it's become a hotbed, after Katrina, for education policy innovation," he said. "They've tried to get it to the point where almost every school is a charter school, which creates almost an educational market."
Given the demands on the young, inexperienced teachers that TFA employs, it's not surprising that they recruit successful, highly motivated candidates. They are paid well, by entry level standards, but they earn it.
There is some training the summer before TFA teachers dive in, but there is a lot of learning on the fly. "Going in, I thought I could handle it, but it's been incredibly hard." Hans said. "I feel like I'm starting to turn the corner, but there's a steep learning curve.
"You appreciate the importance of being schooled in how to be a teacher. Content knowledge is way down on the list of what you need to teach these kids. The biggest thing I've learned is the importance of managing the classroom, being innovative enough to keep the kids engaged."
And the workload has been at times almost overwhelming. "It's incredibly hard, like I've been putting in 100-hour weeks," Hans said. "The kids get there at 7:20 and they leave at 5 o'clock, and then there are lesson plans to do. And I've been coaching football."
There's been another sharp bend in the learning curve for Hans - culture shock. "There are almost 600 kids in the school, and all of them are black, as is over half the faculty," he said. "So I'm in the minority for the first time."
Hard work and adaptability seem to come naturally to Hans, so the prospects for future success look strong. But what might that success look like?
In five years, Hans imagines that he will be in graduate school, most likely pursuing a doctorate in international relations. In 10 years? "Well, I'd like to be a professor, basically," he said.
And how about the State Department? "Yeah, I'd go for that. If I could get into a position that was somewhere between policy making and academia, that could interest me."
How did Hans Buder get from here, Martha's Vineyard, to where he is now, in the trenches at an inner-city school in New Orleans? And, how will he get to where he hopes to be a few years from now? How has growing up on the Island influenced what he's done to date and what he plans to do in the future?
"When you get out into the world, you realize how much privilege we've had, and there's a desire to give back," he said. "I've been really impressed by what a lot of my [MVRHS ] classmates are doing. I think there's more idealism on this Island than other places. I don't know if that's because politically it leans more to the left, which is a population that is more predisposed to community service. Or it may be because we're a tight-knit community and you want to bring that with you wherever you go."