by Kayla Coursey
Stepping into the Independent Study Lab in P101 can be overwhelming for those who are unfamiliar with the space.
When the room is not stuffed to the brim with students, you can see the circle of armchairs and couches in the back right corner of the room with a low table in the middle and an area rug, making the space seem more like a living room than a classroom.
Tables are pushed together just left of the door, ringed by chairs. On the far left wall, clusters of three large desks form some quiet studying spaces. By the window, a puzzle takes up another table, neighboring a potted plant and sometimes accompanied by some flowers.
A small office in the back right, near the couches, houses Mr. Albert Jacoby, the technology integrator. There’s a table with a beta fish* and a microwave next to another couch set up underneath the window that allows Mr. John Baran to look out from his office.
Mr. Baran is the teacher for this room. Rather than actively be in the classroom like the average instructor, however, he sits in his office, taking student questions, meeting with seemingly random individuals, and occasionally emerging and joining the conversation in the main room.
But what is it that Mr. Baran really does?
The speculation is wild. When a group of students who frequent the IS lab were asked what they thought Mr. Baran actually did, the answers were diverse.
“[He goes on] ‘say no to drug’ websites,” said Nick Franzen. “He [also] messes up wikipedia articles”
Haley Stern suggested, “He watches the same video of his kid playing in the pool from over the summer on repeat.”
“I’d bet money that he actually does Beekeeping,” said Will Sanders.
“He practices his yo-yo tricks then makes tutorials on YouTube,” theorized Mason Robertson.
“He runs witness protection,” said an anonymous student.
His actual job is just as diverse as his student’s theories. To find out what he really does, all you need to do stop in his room and ask.
The door to his office has a small whiteboard on it with a growing list of nicknames for the teacher, such “Barantula”, “Baranheit 451”, and “Baranstein Bears” to name a few. From the desk in this office, Mr. Baran can look out on the IS Lab and keep an eye on the students who frequent the area.
“So I’m the Gifted Resource Teacher, which means that I have a caseload of students who at some point were identified as gifted and talented,” Mr. Baran explained.
“My job is to be an academic and emotional resource advocate and support for them, but in reality, and this is sort of based off of my own philosophy as well as Dr Turner’s philosophy, is that I’m actually all of those things for anybody in this school.”
The students that frequent the IS lab, the unique space that Mr. Baran has that is dedicated to giving students a space to work on their Independent Study projects or to study during a free period, also frequent his office with questions ranging from college recommendations to class projects.
“I spend a vast majority of every day putting out little fires that erupt,” said Mr. Baran on the Instagram account Humans of Monticello, which was created by Annie Liguish.
Elaborating on the concept of ‘little fires,’ Mr. Baran explained, “I’ve been at MHS for a long time and so I think that something I carry with me is institutional knowledge, the way things have been done or used to be done, so a lot of times people will ask me questions or if an issue comes up I can help provide some advice or hopefully a solution.
“There is no way for me to quantify or qualify what happens, but I’ll give you an example.”
Mr. Baran then read off his to-do list from his yellow notepad. In his list for this particular day, he had written down that he needed to help with student nominations in Guidance, help a new student continue taking a class that is not offered at our school as an independent study, and coordinate activities with other teachers. He had to write award nominations, a letter of reference, and a scholarship letter for a student. His to-do list on any given day will look similar to this; however, on some days, he might not be able to mark off a single task.
“There is no way to organize all of that stuff; everything is different,” he said. “Every day I have five to twenty things like that in addition to what else I want to get done.”
Mr. Baran’s position as the Gifted Resource Teacher with his own classroom puts him in a unique position that other GRT’s in the county do not have the opportunity to experience. He gets to know many students very well over their years at Monticello and consequently works very closely with the guidance department.
Beyond the academic purpose of the room, it has become an important space for many students where they can go to socialize, eat lunch, or just chill out.
“I think that it’s really a nice place to go if you’re ever having a bad day or just not feeling it,” said Cate Wells, “You can come here to hide away or be comforted.”
Mr. Baran’s job might as well be both Beekeeping and making YouTube Yo-yoing tutorials with the range of things he might have to do throughout the day. The diversity of assignments he faces piled on top of supporting his students and maintaining a safe environment makes it hard to describe his position.
Mr. Baran concluded, “I like this job a lot because it is so unpredictable and there is hardly ever a down moment.”
*Upon publication, the fish, Professor Shark, has retired, and currently lives in a student’s home.