I conducted an interview with the charming Jeffrey Benya about his life and career.
Max: Can you name every place you’ve ever lived?
Benya: Memphis, Baton Rouge, West Palm Beach, Silver Spring, Salisbury, Laurel and I spent a lot of time in Virginia.
Max: Have you been to all 50 states?
Benya: I have not.
Max: Which ones are you missing?
Benya: The West Coast. Well actually, just Montana, Alaska and Hawaii.
Max: How many different establishments have you owned?
Benya: I owned a bookstore when I graduated high school. I owned it for about a year and a half. Then I opened a restaurant in 1980 for two years. It was sort of like a nightclub; there was an ice cream parlor in the front and live entertainment, crab imperial and red snapper in the back. That was also for about a year and a half. It was located in College Park. Then I went into the film business and I made different films for a television station. I got a film degree at the University of Maryland. Well, it was a journalism degree, but it focused on film studies. I made a couple independent films. One got an honorable mention at the Washington D.C. Film Festival. I mostly made films for the U.S. Government. I made commercials for three years for ABC and NBC affiliates. They were mostly commercials about promoting television stations. I made a lot of films for something called The Bureau of Reclamation. I made a film about how they built the National Airport, which was kind of bizarre. For three years I found and edited different videos about National. I did film for about 15 years.
Max: What’s the coolest place you’ve ever been?
Benya: London. There’s a lot of history there, but people say if you want to see the world, go to the London history museum; they take in everything. Here we have a Rembrandt and it’s kind of cool. In London, you walk in and the room is covered in Rembrandts and all the great European artists. Plus the bookstores there are pretty cool.
Max: How did you get into teaching?
Benya: I was between film projects and I went into an interview while my wife was teaching and they said, “How do you teach kids that no one else can teach?” and I said “That was me. I didn’t understand high school at all.” I was on football and I was in the student government but I didn’t understand school. From there they said “you’re hired” because they like teachers who have a different perspective. I came over to Wootton. It’s the only school I ever interviewed at, and they told me I couldn’t have the job. I said, “If you ever have the students that no one wants to teach, give me a call. They called me in two hours and offered me the job and I’ve only ever worked here. I’ve been here for 14 years and it’s been a really cool. I can’t imagine teaching anywhere else because everyone here is so nice.”
Max: Why do you teach history?
Benya: I teach history because I don’t see history as a history class. I see it as a citizenship class. I think all the young people in my room are going to vote in two to four years and if they’re going to go into the four years, well, good golly shouldn’t I know how to figure out what they’re being told. History as citizenship means power, it means control. Maybe they’ll make protest posters in my room. Some write me when they get to college, and most don’t, and that’s OK. I feel like Pink Floyd, just another brick in the wall, but if I can help these kids find their way, then that’s great.