by Liam Warin '20
Jason Robinson is the Eighth Headmaster of Saint Albans School. He grew up near Richmond, Virginia and has taught at many prestigious institutions, including Lawrenceville and Landon. I sat down with him this past Sunday in his wood-paneled office in the Lane-Johnston building and had a fantastic discussion.
Why did you leave the law?
I get asked this a lot. When I was in college, I had law school in the back of my mind, but sophomore year I took a philosophy class and the professor became one of my best mentors and teachers. He was instrumental in getting me to think about the possibility of teaching in the future. Flash forward to my senior year, and I wanted to eventually become a college professor, so I went to grad school at UVA and received a PhD in Government, Political Philosophy, and Legal Philosophy. I became a Teaching Assistant at UVA and loved it, and met lots of older guys in the program. The older guys in the program revealed to me that the job market was really tough for professors in the 1990s, and my Constitutional Law teacher Henry Abraham took me under his wing and let me be his TA and research assistant. He basically told me that I should consider law school, and completely rekindled the law school idea.
So I applied to a bunch of law schools, even ones I had never visited. I had lived in a small sphere in Virginia for the past 20 years, and I wanted a different experience. Eventually, I choose Stanford because of its location and feeling, and after one visit I was completely sold. Law School was an amazing experience, especially out in California. Luckily, a good job was available straight out of law school for me, and I was blessed to become a law clerk for a federal appeals court judge, which I loved. However, it was only a year long. I then moved to DC and joined Covington and Burling, but I did not feel fulfilled by the work. The time I put in did not lead to my satisfaction, and I thought back to when I was a teaching assistant at UVA and realized I wanted to be a teacher. I came home to my wife and told her, “I don’t know how, but I want to become a teacher.”
I reconnected with a high school friend who taught at Episcopal, and I taught a class and really connected with the students. There was something about teaching that just resonated with me, as I felt a sense of purpose. I had more fun in that hour than I had in my previous three years in law, and that was when I knew that I wanted to teach at an independent school in the DC area. Many of the schools I applied to did not have spots, but Landon had a slot for a humanities teacher and baseball coach, so I took it.
Will you teach your own class in the future?
Hopefully next year I will teach some sort of government and constitutional law class. There is a big gap in our history department with the absence of Mr. Eagles, and teaching a class would allow me to connect more with the guys at this school. I just want to be able to connect with kids and teach a subject that I feel passionate about. One of the most important qualities of a St. Albans Headmaster is that they teach their own classes, that they have their own table at lunch, and that they are present at Chapel. I want to be able to follow in so many others’ footsteps.
What is the most different thing at STA then anywhere you've taught at?
St. Albans is the most distinctive school I’ve ever been at, and what I mean by that is that the culture and community of St. Albans is extraordinarily unique and is only found at St. Albans. I am excited to experience more of this culture because I can feel it in the air. Part of this culture is our community activities, whether it be sitting in Chapel together, having lunch together, taking tests together, or watching sports together. Other major components of our culture include our size, the fact that we are an all-boys school, and the way we authentically live out our mission authentically through Chapel together and assigned seats. We also have a unique sense of tradition, and that is reinforced by our age as a school being over 100 years old. We have a sense of pride in our school and in our past, looking fondly back at our school.
Being right next to the National Cathedral, we are able to have experiences most schools can only dream of. We have a physical location that is absolutely beautiful and serene. No other school does something such as starting school in the National Cathedral, a celebration that inspires greatness, so the physical location is certainly special. One of the main things that people say about St. Albans is that it is “special.” The phrase rolls off the tongue and is used as widely from a ten-year-old C Former to a 90-year-old alum, revealing the similar, special experience. St. Albans is the one single life-changing experience that students experience, and it is a completely indispensable journey through school. There is also a unique sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and the social service requirement elevates that belief.
Finally, the way students talk to adults is extraordinarily mature for kids of such age, as students reflect much older than they really are. This is not normal for schools, and it is something that stands out to me as a teacher.
Were you surprised by anything when you first came here?
I had very lofty expectations of the school when I first visited, but I’m happy to say that St. Albans has surpassed my wildest dreams. I was also struck by the ways that boys greeted me when I stood outside on a cold December morning greeting students with Mr. Chandler. The younger kids could have easily brushed me off, but every one of them took the time to shake my hand and introduce themselves. I think this really shows the culture of St. Albans, as the students embraced me into this loving community. The boys really showed a devotion to the school, something I did not expect.
People often see us as a serious, austere learning center. Yes, it is true that we observe many formalities such as family style lunch, Chapel three times every seven days, and a strict dress code, but it is also true that we have lots of fun, demonstrated at BEEF Club events and in the classroom. The school is not grim at all and is a place filled with enjoyment. So I would say that another thing I did not expect is just how much fun people have here, while still learning and developing as students. Finally, the teachers are very flexible in their schedules and are always available. The “Office Hours” time section is one of the most important things our school offers.