Headmaster’s Thoughts – December 2009

As we come to the end of the year, I want to wish all my readers (all six of you apart from my wife, my mother, my daughters, and my senior ethics class who have to read and critique these “thoughts”) a very happy holiday season.


I have noticed an increasing trend in our school Open Houses for parents of prospective students. More of them ask me how long I think I will stay doing what I do. I know I look old, but these questions make my wonder if perhaps I look sick as well. One parent flat out asked me how it was that I wasn’t burned out after 41 years. I restrained the response that I am not a candle but have since thought carefully about the matter.


The obvious answer is that I enjoy enormously what I am doing. Let me be honest, there are days when I am emotionally drained, but most jobs have some days like that. On the other hand, there are many days of pure pleasure, mostly from watching the progress of our students, but also sometimes from enjoying the successful partnership with a parent for the benefit of their child, or from mentoring a faculty member. In other words, this job never bores, gives great feelings of personal value (whether true or merely perceived), allows me to work in an office next to my wife’s, and is infinitely more pleasurable than any other job I could imagine and far better than “retiring.”


I really do not feel “burned out” in the least. I feel as passionate about what we do and just as involved as I ever have. Certainly teaching helps. I have frequently said that I cannot imagine stopping teaching. I will be the first to admit that it is a narcissistic activity. You pontificate, and usually they (in my case, the seniors) listen. Then they get their revenge by attacking these pieces, but that is minor compared to the pontificating part.


Actually, so good is the job that a number of my friends (people, would you believe, as old as I am) have told me that they really want to teach at a school like York Prep. I don’t know why they confide these “my secret wish” stories to me. Either they want to make me feel good, or they see something they want to be part of. I never actually discuss my job with them, certainly not the emotionally difficult part of it, but it is obvious that when they occasionally come to school to see Jayme or me, they are overwhelmed by the energy and attractiveness of our students (who wouldn’t be?). They walk in, and there are gaggles of giggling adolescents (I only put that in because I like the alliterative sound of the phrase). I am watching kids in the gym from the lobby windows; smiling teachers stroll around; there is a hum of energy.


If you didn’t know, you would think that the job is a piece of cake. After all, none of the traumatic scenarios are ever played out in public—those moments when it suddenly is clear that there is abuse in a sad home situation (yes, we have had them), when a child has just lost his way (those, too), or we are trying to counsel a young person who is on the verge of giving up. These don’t happen often and, when they do, the tears are shed in private not in the lobby. How we handle problems is the test of the school, not how we handle the giggling gaggle (I really do like that phrase!). But our friends don’t see that reality.


So, at the end of the year, let me wish you a New Year of joy. Let me hope that you only (like our friends) see the happiness in school, that your child is one of the giggling gaggle, that all will be well, and that sadness never enters your child’s future. I hope that I am around for many years to share that joy, because this candle is not burning out, and, hopefully, there is a lot of wax left.


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

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