Headmaster’s Thoughts – August 2013

Since these are my “August Thoughts” and very few will read them, I thought that I would try to be serious for a change. I generally prefer to hide behind humor to avoid making pompous remarks about education and to come across as a curmudgeon rather than pulge how deeply I feel about what we do at York Prep.

I started writing these thoughts to encourage my Senior Ethics class to write and to show them that teachers should and would write. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I should be serious sometimes even if humor is, at least for me, an almost lazy way of making my point of view known.

It is so much easier to write something that is slightly amusing every month, and there have been about 100 months that I have done just that. If you have the tenacity or the time (or are that bored), look back at the last 100 of these “Thoughts” and you will see what I mean. I have enjoyed writing them and I have enjoyed making myself smile, which is both arrogant and self-indulgent, since I have to admit that most of them still amuse me when I reread them.Regular readers (that means my wife and maybe five others) probably wonder each month whom I will rail against, or which funny (grossly exaggerated) story I will tell from my past. Writing in a more serious vein is more difficult for me perhaps because I fear that what I say would be too easily dismissed as pompous self-righteousness.

But since so few of you will read this in August (the deadest month of the school year), let me admit that the most obvious is rarely written: the most important factor in a child’s education is the teachers’ ability to inspire their students. It is rarely written because it is easier to write about laptops and new approaches or national tests. I like to think that the greatest part of York Prep is its faculty, and I like to think at York that we inspire more than most. And I certainly believe that beyond anything else, any methodology or technology, any class size or textbook, it is the quality of teaching that makes the most difference in a child’s learning.

What has surprised me for the past 44 years of being the head of York Prep is how many young people we see who have come to us having lost hope in themselves as intellectual students. Can one blame the teachers in their former schools? Were these potential learners in the wrong place at the wrong time, or perhaps they were not mature enough yet? Regardless, our job is to inspire the students when they come to us. The mechanics of how we function as a school, the nuts and bolts and other details, are explained in our website, but none of them are relevant without excellent teachers who can inspire.

I wonder if only as graduating seniors, at the end of the process, our students realize in hindsight the depth of the commitment of their teachers. Can one truly appreciate one’s teachers in seventh grade or eighth grade? I do not know the answer. The teacher who influenced me the most by far was a history teacher, Dr. Isaacson, whom I first had classes with in what was called in England the “lower sixth,” which is the equivalent here of the 11th grade. He built on the work of the good teachers I had before him. Some were not so good, but many were very good. He did not just arise as my mentor and intellectual guide, even though I may have thought that at the time. The cliché “when the student is ready, the master will appear” is only true because the student has been prepared by good teachers for the master, who gets all of the glory. I have too often said that I owe my love of education to Dr. Isaacson, which, in a sense, dismisses my first grade teacher (Ms. Young) and all the fine teachers who followed her. I was not a blank slate; they inspired in a different way, less dramatically but not less importantly.

It is with pride that I notice how many of our graduates have made teaching their vocation. The tribute there is clear.

The problem with writing like this is the obvious self-serving component of it. I am glorifying our teachers. But there is another side. As parents, you have a say in all of this. So if your child has an inspirational teacher, please let us know. And if your child is not being inspired appropriately, then something is happening that needs to be corrected, and we need to know that too. (My e-mail is rstewart@yorkprep.org.)

In the end, the credo of the teaching profession is simple: what you achieve is what you inspire others to do. With your help, we hope we can inspire your child to success.

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.