After a long and influential career at Deerfield, art teacher David Dickinson and French teacher Claudia Lyons will retire at the end of this year. Ms. Lyons has been a teacher at Deerfield for 41 years. Mr. Dickinson has been teaching at Deerfield for 32 years.
Ms. Lyons, known to her students as “Madame”, has been teaching French since she arrived at Deerfield. Her teaching style is described by students as being comprehensive and engaging while also humorous. “Ms. Lyons always comes into class with this special energy about her. She’s ready to teach. Even though she calls us her ‘criminals’ and threatens us with her ‘guillotine’ sometimes, it is all in good fun,” said Caroline Mahony ’21.
During her time at Deerfield, Ms. Lyons has taught hundreds of French classes. At one point, she served as the Chair of the Language Department. She has witnessed monumental changes within the department, including the removal of Russian and German, and the addition of the Chinese and Arabic programs.
In addition to teaching, Ms. Lyons has served in numerous leadership positions. “I sat on virtually every committee, except for the Athletic Committee. I was asked, but laughed and declined,” she said. Over the course of her time at Deerfield, she has served as Associate Director for Admissions, where she chaired the upperclassmen committee; member of the Steering Committee when Deerfield returned to co-education; Chair of the Language Department; and the no longer existent “Appeals Committee,” for disciplinary hearings. She has also been awarded the Greer Chair and the Independence Chair.
Mr. Dickinson, known to most students as “Mr. D”, has also achieved plenty of recognition. Mr. Dickinson has held many positions on Academy committees, including Athletics Committee, Campus Planning Committee, and Imagine Deerfield. He has been awarded the Hilson Chair, Academic Chair, and the Greer Chair.
Before coming to Deerfield, Mr. Dickinson taught at Stoneleigh-Burnham for seven years. There, he helped create the visual arts program. He then joined the Visual and Performing Arts department at Deerfield, which was much different from the one that exists today. The department was first housed in the Memorial Building. It then moved into the Reed Center and now resides in the Hess Center for the Arts. The program was largely focused on photography, architecture, and ceramics. Most of the teachers were not teachers by training but rather practicing artists in their field. This aspect, Mr. Dickinson noted, set the Deerfield arts program apart.
The extensive arts curriculum that Deerfield has today started almost entirely under the leadership of Mr. Dickinson, despite the fact that he did not initially even plan to teach. “Deerfield allowed me freedom and autonomy when developing a sequential visual art program that shepherded interested students from the novice level in Intro [to Studio] Art through the AP level to Post-AP Topics and Topics Tutorial,” said Mr. Dickinson.
The arts program that Mr. Dickinson leaves behind is regarded as one of the best in New England. It has produced several well-received senior portfolios and was recognized by the New York Times in 2014. The current Topics Tutorial class, with nine students, is the largest in Deerfield history. The curriculum also now includes classes such as AP Photography, AP Art History, AP 3D Design, and AP Drawing.
In addition to teaching, Mr. Dickinson coached the Girls’ Varsity Tennis team for 25 years over the course of which the team achieved 235 wins and 41 losses. “We worked to have fun and enjoy the experience. We even had a ‘secret meditation’ before battle.” He added fondly, “I’ll never forget the long van rides – loud music blasting on the trip to an opponent’s destination … then the return home, driving in silence as the team napped and snored,” he said. He also coached sub-varsity soccer for 13 years, and at one point had a brief stint coaching squash.
Mr. Dickinson and Ms. Lyons also started the event KFC in 2007, another longstanding Deerfield tradition where student performers have an opportunity to showcase their talents. The event was inspired by the performance and help of an alum, Joshua Binswanger ’80, eventually turning into a Deerfield tradition.
The profound impact of Ms. Lyons and Mr. Dickinson is regarded by both students and faculty alike. “In all my years around art teachers, in college, before college, after college, I think Mr. Dickinson prepares some of the best assignments I’ve seen,” said fellow Visual and Performing Arts teacher Mercedes Taylor. Within the art department, Mrs. Taylor regards Mr. Dickinson as an amazing mentor, friend, and teacher whom she will miss dearly. Also having worked with Ms. Lyons in the language department, she said, “I’ve been blessed with both adventures.”
Current post-AP student Maddie Lee said, “Walking into his classroom is different than walking into any other classroom…He’s done so much in his time here that I’ve never seen from any other teacher at any other school.”
Concerning Ms. Lyons, current student Caroline Mahony said, “Ms. Lyons is probably the best teacher I’ve ever had. My French has improved so much with her as my teacher and she really pushes each student to do their best. She knows when I’m doing my best and wants me to be the best version of myself.”
After they depart Deerfield, Ms. Lyons and Mr. Dickinson have lots of plans for retirement. They plan to split their time between their homes on Prince Edward Island in Canada and Leeds in MA, during which they plan to travel for their bucket list and do some volunteer work. Ms. Lyons also plans to learn Italian and work on golf, while Mr. Dickinson wants to start a band and continue painting and illustrating.
When asked what they will miss most, their mutual reply marked their true commitment to Deerfield: “the students.”