Departmental Offerings

The following course descriptions detail the likely offerings during any school year, though specifics will vary from term to term and course lineups are always changing. Click on the course titles below for full descriptions.

  • English I

    English I frames the expectations of scholarship and critical inquiry at Thacher. The theme of the class is The Examined Life and the reading list prompts students to reflect on their experiences and the formation of their values. Inquiry is at the heart of the work of English I. With writing, students use a process-based approach that promotes writing not only as a vehicle for expression, but also as a tool for exploration and learning. Students begin the year with an extended unit devoted to the personal essay in order to establish a writing process that includes idea generation, writing to learn, drafting, and collaboration. Students will employ this writing process, and the vocabulary used to describe it, throughout their time at Thacher. Many of the readings are in the bildungsroman tradition that models the examination of self and society. The year will begin with a focus on short, creative nonfiction, and then move to a sequence of graphic and hybrid novels that offer opportunities to analyze text in multiple media. In the second half of the year, course readings cover a range of literary genres—each providing a new lens through which to explore the concept of the self.
  • English II

    Thacher’s mission statement begins with the claim that our school “trains young men and women in the art of living for their own greatest good and for the greatest good of their fellow citizens in a diverse and changing world.” In English II, we will explore the concept of “the greatest good” as it relates to our personal, local, and global lives. Course readings will highlight the cultural tradition of literature throughout our “diverse and changing world” and prompt students to interpret, analyze, synthesize, and develop their points of view. Students will engage in genuine dialogue, challenge the status quo, ask the “un-asked” questions, and begin to see themselves as agents of change. As writers, students will express themselves coherently in a variety of modes and genres as they examine texts and their own experiences through a clear and critical lens. Students will develop critical thinking and media literacy skills, as well as academic discipline, group cooperation, and collaboration skills.
  • English III Honors

    English III Honors is a study of voices. In conjunction with history class, students examine the voices that form America and American identity. More specifically, students consider the echoing of these voices—how different figures use different genres to respond to and make anew that which came before. To this end, students engage with a variety of forms of literature—poetry, novels, literary criticism, essays, speeches, and plays—published anywhere between 1630 and 2014. Perhaps most importantly, English III Honors pushes students to find, understand, and use their own voices to join the rich and varied conversations. By the end of the year students have a strong understanding of various American experiences, an ability to critically read about these experiences, and the confidence to enter the conversations they invite
  • English IV Honors: Senior Electives

    The curriculum offerings for senior English change from year to year. English IV Honors courses are more narrowly defined, to make room for deeper, more complex analysis. Below are examples of recent courses.

    Burning Illusions
    Is colorblindness the key to racial harmony? Is White Privilege real? Why are some groups’ histories emphasized over others’? This course seeks answers through an investigation of the origin, function and evolution of race in the United States. It utilizes a diverse set of readings, music, and film to examine how power and economics influence history, culture, and identity. This course will develop students’ skills in media literacy, critical thinking, annotating, essay writing, collaboration, and dialogue. Ultimately, Burning Illusions will foster intellectual independence essential to not only critical thinking and academic success, but to becoming leaders in service of the greatest good.

    What Moves in the Margin: Great Women Writers of the 20th and 21st Centuries
    Grounded in the conviction that our shared humanity is more important and more powerful than the gender we may not share, this course will offer students the opportunity to turn the table on the patriarchal standards still embedded in current curricula through the study of texts produced by great women writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. These authors, like their canonical male counterparts, grapple in their texts with what it means to be human

    Built around works of literature that explore universal elements of identity, this course will provide students myriad opportunities throughout to reflect on the intersection of common, core identifiers such as gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation in the context of recurring themes related to: love; relationship (e.g. family, friendship, romantic); insider/outsider and the phenomenon of "othering"; and notions of beauty.

    Aside from challenging stereotyped ideas of what makes a great writer, the course will also explore intersecting themes related to identity and personal agency in the context of community.

    Possible texts for our consideration: Aphra Behn: "The Disappointment," Dale Spender: Women of Ideas: And What Men Have Done to Them (excerpts), Virginia Woolf: A Room of One's Own, Toni Morrison: Beloved; Playing in the Dark (excerpts), Jesmyn Ward: Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jeanette Winterson: Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?, Zadie Smith: On Beauty, Elaine Scarry: On Beauty and Being Just (excerpts).

    The Empire Strikes Back: Immigrant & Diasporic Voices in American and English Literature
    This course will explore works of literature that have emerged from colonial and post-colonial territories during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  We will read works from representative English and American immigrant authors who work within the post-imperial framework, even as they assume the daunting challenge of cultural decolonization. Building on themes explored sophomore and junior year, we will consider questions such as: What effects did/does colonization have on individual identity and collective culture? How are those effects revealed in the works studied? What role does language play in the culture of imperialism? Is it significant that these authors write in the language of the colonial power? Authors and books for our possible consideration include: Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Chimamanda Adichie, Americanah; Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth; Tommy Orange, There There; Edwige Danticat, The Farming of Bones; Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You; and Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony; Ocean Vuong, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous.

    1939: A World Recaptured
In this course, students examine the events of 1939, a year in which the world that we know was born. It offered earth-shaking moments of change, with the end of the Spanish Civil War and the beginning of World War II, and it anticipated later shifts with the introduction of television and the affirmation of big-time sports. The Depression ended, and the Holocaust officially began. The optimism of two great international fairs, one in San Francisco and one in New York, was tempered by Einstein’s belief, expressed to FDR, that the United States could and should build an atomic bomb. Labor unrest was both recalled by the release of Tom Mooney and limited by the Supreme Court ruling that sit-down strikes were illegal. The eventual end of colonialism was anticipated, peacefully by Gandhi in Mumbai and more violently by the IRA in Coventry, a city made famous a year later when the Germans blitzed it from the air. The United States officially looked to the past by declaring its neutrality as its allies mobilized to fight the Axis. It was a very good year for books (Day of the Locust; The Grapes of Wrath; Johnny Got His Gun; The Snows of Kilimanjaro; Pale Horse, Pale Rider; Farewell to Berlin; and Mother Courage to name just a few). It was an even better year for film with over a dozen absolute classics as well as some movies that have attained cult status. Some of the classics include Gone with the Wind; The Wizard of Oz; Stagecoach; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Ninotchka; Young Mr. Lincoln; Of Mice and Men; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; and Dark Victory. For cult films, you need to look no further than Mandrake the Magician; The Little Princess; Charlie Chan at Treasure Island; and Tarzan Finds a Son. Students examine a good deal of primary source material including newspaper and magazine accounts, movie newsreel reports, as well as footage from the German invasion of Poland and the free city of Danzig, from the New York World’s Fair, from Marian Anderson’s stirring rendition of the National Anthem before 75,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and from Lou Gehrig’s farewell to his fans. In addition, they read, they watch film, and they write. All students will end the course with a written research report on a topic of their own choosing.


  • Photo of Seth Boyd
    Seth Boyd
    Chair of the English Department, English Teacher
    University of New Hampshire - BA, MA
    University of Nevada - PhD
  • Photo of Matt Balano
    Matt Balano
    Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; English Teacher
    University of California, Santa Cruz - BA
  • Photo of Melanie Berner
    Melanie Berner
    English Department, Mindfulness Instructor
  • Photo of Katherine Halsey
    Katherine Halsey
    French and English Teacher and Riding Instructor
    Stanford University - BA
  • Photo of Tracy Miller
    Tracy Miller
    Director of Studies
    Mount Holyoke College - AB
    New York University - MA, PhD
  • Photo of Peter Robinson
    Peter Robinson
    Art History and English Teacher
    College of Wooster - BA
    Vanderbilt University - MA
  • Photo of Tim Sullivan
    Tim Sullivan
    English Teacher, Upper School Dorm Head
    Princeton University - AB
    Middlebury College - MA
Notice of nondiscriminatory policy as to students: The Thacher School admits students of any race, color, national, and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other School-administered programs.