When I spoke to sophomore Russell Overly the other day on a Google Meet, he’d just come from Chemistry class, taught by his dad, Mr. Overly. The class was reviewing the concept of electrochemistry, and though they live in the same house, Russell and Mr. Overly were on different computers in different rooms.
It’s an extension of the unwritten policy they had long before father and son were going to school at the same home address. After all, being a teacher’s kid can be awkward even when you’re not in the same class as your dad.
In a separate Meet, Mr. Overly told me he consulted with faculty last summer who had taught their own kids. But the strongest voice came from his wife and Russell’s mom, who sat down with them to lay out the ground rules. “It seemed silly at the time,” Mr. Overly said. “But she had good foresight that we needed some boundaries. Looking back, it paid off a lot.”
Some of those boundaries? Russell calls his dad Mr. Overly in class (something both father and son say can be pretty funny to the other kids.). Russell has had to email his dad with questions when they’re not in class, the same as any other student would have to do. Long before the quarantine, there was no walking up to dad in the kitchen to ask a chem question. And now there’s the aforementioned sequestration in different rooms of the house for virtual chem class.
Even for tutorial, he doesn’t go see his dad in his house. “I stay on the Google Meet,” Russell says.
It goes both ways. Mr. Overly tries to hold his tongue at home when he might want to ask Russell if he could have done more to prepare for a chem assignment, because he couldn’t do that with his other students.
It’s not the first time their father-son roles have been expanded. Mr. Overly coached Russell’s lax team when he was in eighth grade and during this year’s shortened season, but he says it was a different dynamic. As a colleague pointed out to him, “With a team, everyone is going for the same goal. With a class, everyone is going for their own grade.”
And Mr. Overly also played a starring role in a vacation bible school Russell attended in fifth grade, where he did experiments like blowing up a gummy bear. “It had something to do with a redox reaction,” Russell says.
Even though Russell finds it “weird” to see his dad in a different light, Russell thinks he’s a good teacher. And Russell says it helps that “science is [his] forte.” Liking the subject makes it easier for Russell to tolerate the times when he feels like his dad is being a little tough on him. “I understand that he doesn’t want the other kids to think he’s favoring me.”
Mr. Overly knows he can be hard on Russell and his brother William (who is in a different section of the class). He also speculates that it’s been a little embarrassing for them. But they all do what they can to avoid that. At the start of the year they came up with a guiding principle: “You don’t embarrass me, and I won’t embarrass you.” He says he tries to view things through the lens of what his sons will experience. And so he might hold back on making some goofy chemistry joke in class that he’s made for twenty years.
Apparently, he holds back at home too. While Russell says his dad will sometimes point out why something is sour or spicy at dinner, his mom is not a fan of the impromptu chemistry lessons.
“My wife hates science,” Mr. Overly says. “I can’t use the word molecule at the dinner table. So when one of them does ask a question, I ask them ‘Do you really want to know the answer?”
Mr. Overly is not interested in pushing science on his kids. Still, he has greatly enjoyed getting to teach them, to discover where their interests lie, and see them from a new perspective. And Russell actually thinks the science-loving part of his dad provides a good connection to the subject. “But he’s also the guy I watch Jack Ryan with.”
Ultimately, in spite of a few obstacles, Russell seems to have pretty positive associations with being a teacher’s kid at Lovett.
He told me they live near Mr. Palmer, so Russell will often see him when he runs. “He’ll be outside grilling, or chilling out with his dog.” He likes Mr. Palmer, and doesn’t mind seeing him outside of school.
Also, Coach Davis is his godfather. “I saw the PE side last year and he’s also the guy who helped me as a baby,” Russell says.
(And I’d like to believe Russell enjoys taking English with Mr. Overly’s friend, yours truly.)
Another advantage to having Mr. Overly as your dad: easy off-hours access to the weight room.
They both must be doing something right because Russell is choosing to take AP Chem with his dad next year. While Mr. Overly was surprised and pleased, he does want his children to have other science mentors besides him. Part of him wishes Russell had had the chance to be in Mr. Nasrallah’s class this year.
For now, they’re finishing up the school year in separate rooms of the same house. Though recently, Russell pushed the boundaries just a bit there. Mr. Overly told me Russell came into his room during one of his other classes and said, “‘Hey, Mr. Overly.’ And it was funny. I’ve been more flexible. I’m trying to enjoy this.”