Headmaster’s Thoughts – April 2011

My monthly “Headmaster’s Thoughts” began as an answer to a senior in my Ethics class who complained that students never had the chance to see or grade their teachers’ work. It seemed an almost reasonable statement, although I am not sure now why I accepted the fundamental premise. Anyway, I wrote a small piece about the pleasures of standing at the window in the lobby watching our students enjoy their Phys Ed classes. Over 75 pieces later, I think it is time for a recap. Mrs. Weschler very kindly has written an index to my 75 efforts (the reference to this one will probably be “The Index”), and here it is. If nothing else, it may help prevent me from repeating myself.

 

2004
December
 
Recreation
2005
January
 
The Kosher Quartet
 
February
 
Self-Googling
 
March
 
Dr. Isaacson
 
April
 
Teaching the Senior Ethics class
 
May
 
Bullying
 
June
 
Graduation speech
 
July
 
Empty school in the summer
 
August
 
J. K. Rowling’s influence on public perception of teachers
 
September
 
Diversity
 
October
 
Fundraising
 
November
 
Crazy behavior
 
December
 
Intelligent design
2006
January
 
Spotlight on Carl
 
February
 
Taxi cabs
 
March
 
Honesty
 
April
 
Automated phone systems
 
May
 
Spam
 
June
 
Graduation speech on family
 
July
 
Television
 
August
 
Tripp Lake Camp S’mores
 
September
 
Individuality and success
 
October
 
Change at schools
 
November
 
National Clown Nose Day
 
December
 
Heavy lifting
2007
January
 
January sales
 
February
 
Character trumps algebra
 
March
 
Thoughts about Thoughts
 
April
 
Scholarship aid
 
May
 
James De La Vega
 
June
 
Graduation speech
 
July
 
Advice to parents having problems with their child
 
August
 
School during summer through the eyes of J. T.
 
September
 
Writing blogs
 
October
 
Camp compared to school
 
November
 
Athletic competition
 
December
 
Scholarship angels
2008
January
 
Simon Says
 
February
 
Forms
 
March
 
Teaching Ethics
 
April
 
Grandchildren
 
May
 
“Forever Young”
 
June
 
Graduation speech
 
July
 
Letters to Amazon, Red Bull, DuPont
 
August
 
Jump Start – Scholars Program
 
September
 
Advice to new principals
 
October
 
In defense of Christina Schlesinger
 
November
 
Time passing quickly
 
December
 
Glass dachshunds
2009
January
 
New Year’s resolutions
 
February
 
Scaffolding
 
March
 
Children’s books vs. War and Peace
 
April
 
Lemming effect
 
May
 
War and Peace
 
June
 
Graduation speech
 
July
 
School’s part in students’ future success
 
August
 
Food
 
September
 
At the doctor’s checking cognitive function
 
October
 
Seniors in Ethics – Building character
 
November
 
Joy of Cooking
 
December
 
Not burned out as headmaster
2010
January
 
The two Americas
 
February
 
Public speaking
 
March
 
Academic success
 
April
 
Communicating with grandchildren
 
May
 
Computers
 
June
 
Graduation speech
 
July
 
New puppy
 
August
 
Honeybees
 
September
 
English food
 
October
 
E-readers
 
November
 
Power of words
 
December
 
Timmy at six months
2011
January
 
On being an old dinosaur
 
February
 
Arguing with your mate like Xantippe
 
March
 
Wagnerian opera

Knowing what a headmaster writes reveals perhaps only a small part of his views on education. Knowing how he carries out his role is much more important. The headmaster of my school was a Welshman, David Williams, who had been to Cambridge. I never really thought about him except as a figure of authority until I read his only published novel when I was about fifteen. It was a mystery novel, but that is all I can remember of it. His son became quite a distinguished novelist, which must have given his father considerable satisfaction.

 

In my last full year at the school, David Williams decided to teach. He picked about a dozen boys for his class—I was one of them—and we spent a year translating Voltaire’s Candide. Now, Candide is a really thin book, and yet it took a year of earnest discussion about every sentence to get through it. I learned more about David Williams in that year than about Voltaire. I learned that he cared deeply and passionately about literature, that he was a decent and kind man, and that he had a sense of humor. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see that side of him. In hindsight, the fact that he taught a senior class, while skillfully being the headmaster of a school of 650 boys, has influenced me to teach the seniors here at York.

 

In those days, once you got a scholarship to Oxford, you could leave the school. We did not have graduations; you took the exams at the college itself and, if you were lucky enough to do well, then that was it. So I left my school in late January when I got the telegram (yes, they sent telegrams) from the college. I went to see Mr. Williams to say goodbye. He courteously asked me where I was going to spend the time until I went up to Oxford in September. I told him I was going to Paris. He said he had used the same period in his life to work his way around Western Europe.

 

Neither of us had any idea I was ever going to be a headmaster. He shook my hand and wished me well. He was a good man, who has since passed away. This short piece is in his memory.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

“Headmaster’s Thoughts” for previous months are archived in the section More News. You may access additional months by clicking Headmaster’s Thoughts Archives on the same page.