The beard was an accident.
According to English teacher Mark Henderson, his new, fully-grown beard is the result of not shaving during Regents week. He decided to keep the beard, to the delight of most of his students and fellow teachers.
Henderson has achieved a degree of fame at Stuyvesant. Though he has been at Stuyvesant for only one and a half years, he has developed quite a reputation among students.
As a child, Henderson was exposed to a range of experiences. His father was a forest ranger, so although Henderson lived with his mother (his parents divorced when he was young) in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, he spent two months every summer with his father out west. Despite his unusual childhood, Henderson said, “Everybody takes their life and views it as normal.”
His varied experiences as a child sparked his interest in several different fields. In fact, teaching was not Henderson’s initial profession of choice. The first thing he ever wanted to be was a doctor’s husband because “she would make a lot of money and I wouldn’t have to work,” he said.
Henderson said he probably wanted to be an astronaut when he was little, but the first thing he remembers wanting to be is a professor “because you get the summers off,” he said. He attended teaching school at New York University. However, he became tired of it because “it’s very hard to be an academic and a lot of it becomes competition over a very, very few jobs,” he said. It was less about literature than about “cutting everyone else down,” he said.
His second field choice was publishing. He worked at publishing companies W. W. Norton and then Routledge. At first, it was exciting. “It’s really cool the first time a book happens and it’s because of you,” he said. He said he enjoyed “that you actually see the product of your labor.” However, Henderson was disappointed to see that publishing increasingly became focused on “making money off of books,” he said.
Finally, he started thinking about teaching. He received his first job teaching for two years at the Cobble Hill School for American Studies in Brooklyn. He described it as “really hard” because “there are so many obstacles for a student to succeed.” However, he also said, “Working there was a really great experience. […] I felt like I was actually helping people, people who otherwise probably would not be helped.” After two years, he was ready for a new job because of the difficult situation at his school.
When Henderson applied to be an English teacher at Stuyvesant two years ago, he knew Stuyvesant only by its prestigious reputation. He was amazed by the behavior of his students on the first day of school. “The students came into class, opened up their notebooks and looked at me as though they were expecting to learn something,” Henderson said. “That’s not usual.”
Henderson was forced to adjust quickly from teaching at an underperforming neighborhood school to a school where the expectations were extremely high. The transition period, however, did not last very long. Henderson’s easygoing nature and humor helped him grab the attention of students. “Mr. Henderson makes the classroom enjoyable,” freshman Emma Pollack said. “He relates to his students more than most teachers do.”
Over the past two years at Stuyvesant, Henderson has developed close relationships with his students. “I don’t think I could teach for very long if I didn’t like the kids,” Henderson said. He is comfortable talking to kids about their personal lives, which makes the kids more relaxed during class. “[Henderson] is the kind of guy you can talk to about anything, and he’ll listen and give his feedback,” sophomore Andrew Cook said.
Last year, Henderson became the faculty advisor for the Stuyvesant Theater Community (STC). He took on the post despite not having any experience in the field, and was immediately impressed by the diligence and productivity of the theater program. “I was amazed at how a group of teenagers were pulling off six or seven shows a year,” Henderson said.
However, Henderson recently decided to give up his position in STC for personal reasons. In a month, Henderson’s wife’s twin boys will be born. He says the prospect of being a father is already affecting his relationships with his students. He finds himself looking at the kids and wondering, “Are my children going to be like that…or like that…or like that?”
Henderson’s relationships with his students make his teaching style unique. “There’s an upbeat feel in his classroom that most other teachers can’t achieve,” freshman Ariel Lerner said. “I couldn’t think of anyone who could teach [English composition] better than Mr. Henderson.”