Faculty Spotlight: Richard Oberdorfer

Chair, History and Social Sciences Department
Department and Program Affiliations:
History and Social Sciences; Sponsor of the Science Fiction Club and Co-Sponsor of UNITID (formerly CEAC), a student club promoting diversity

Academic background:
B.A., Political Science, Sewanee (University of the South)
M.A., History, Certificate in Latin American Studies, The University of Florida
How long have you been at Norfolk Academy?
I have been teaching at Norfolk Academy for 42 years.

Tell us why you wanted to become an educator:
I enjoy the story element in history, and I especially enjoy storytelling. I discovered early that sharing all those good stories with enthusiastic young people is more fun than work! There is another element as well: I hated every moment I was in school. The pressure to get “right answers” made me a nervous wreck. My goal as a teacher is to lessen that grade pressure so that classes don’t become Dante’s Inferno. I use the stories - and a LOT of (attempted) humor - in the hope of making my courses at least tolerable. I try to stress that I’m not the students’ adversary.

What most excites you about working at Norfolk Academy?
Quite simply, the “kids” at NA are spectacular. Every one of them is “scary bright”. I have seen no other educational establishment - high school or college - where students with that kind of intelligence are equally gracious and creative. I have compared this job to throwing raw meat to wolves: present things and then get out of their way! My greatest fear is that I  will let them down.

Norfolk Academy is unique because…
...of the talent and personalities of its students. As long as I’m upright and mobile, I hope I’ll be able to work with them.

What do you like to do in your own time/when you’re not working?  
“Not working”?!

When I can, I listen to my rather extensive classical music library; about a quarter of our house consists of old LP’s and CD’s. I also devour Jim Butcher’s series, The Dresden Files, and wait impatiently for the next episode of the latest Star Trek manifestation. I always enjoyed playing softball when I could. Also, as my classes know, I write short stories whenever I get the opportunity.

Last book read:
Kay Redfield Jamison’s Exuberance: The Passion for Life, a wonderful study of the power of positive emotion. At the same time, I read Stephen King’s The Gunslinger.  (The next Dresden novel doesn’t come out until the summer, and I’ve pre-ordered it.)
Favorite food?  
Generally, everything the doctor won’t let me eat. But once a year I’m allowed to pounce on some fried chicken.

A movie is being made about your life. Who would they cast to play you?
Sean Connery, maybe? Actually, I would have chosen Robin Williams. In his public persona, he projected the kind of off-the-wall, zany enthusiasm that I strive to achieve.  
Fun fact your students might not know about you/might find surprising:
Marc Moss, whom I taught way back in my first years here (and whose sons graduated a few years ago) writes scripts for movies.  In one the villain is a History teacher with posters all over his classroom…hmmm…

“When I grow up, I want to be…”:
I’m not sure I WANT to grow up if it means doing something other than what I currently do. But, if there were an opening at Santa’s workshop, I’d like to be considered for the job.