Headmaster’s Thoughts – July 2005

The most difficult time of the year to write these “Headmaster’s Thoughts” is the summer because, quite simply, the students are not at school. Although most of us in the administration work to prepare for the coming year during June, July, and August, the place is not the same.

When I first came to America in 1964, I was a counselor at a girls’ camp in Maine. Tripp Lake Camp was, for me, a magical place. It was so different and more alive and vibrant than anything I had experienced in England that I think it prejudiced me forever in favor of the excitement of this country. It was all so busy… girls going to play sports, counselors taking the girls on trips in canoes, and plays being rehearsed in the theater. So strong was this first impression that I suspect it has substantially influenced the way I see York Prep. Yes, I know that first and foremost our school is a place of learning, but it should also be a place of fun.

Six years after I first went to the camp, in the summer after we established York Prep, I went back to the camp after the season had ended. It was a totally different place. All the boats had been taken in, the dock was in, the art shops were closed, the theater was empty, the dining room was nothing more than a bare large room, and the bunks were depressingly small and beginning to acquire a coat of dust. It was just a place. If I had come from England then, I would have felt I was walking into a mausoleum.

An empty school is not nearly as bad. There are fellow administrators around and even a few students who are being tutored or need a book. The secretarial staff is still here, a few teachers are working, and Carl, our ever-cheerful guard, still salutes me and, for some unknown reason, continues to call me “General.” The rooms still look attractive and Oscar and his crew are painting them. Unlike the empty camp, our labs still look like our labs, our library still looks like our library, and if next door’s theater is empty, at least it looks as though at any moment one could put students on the large stage. But there is hardly any noise, no laughing or flirting young people, none of the spontaneous life that adolescents infuse into their surroundings (sometimes quite frustratingly). In short, the place is more boring.

My conclusion is that this all explains why we keep our faculty. Teachers do not get highly paid; they work much longer hours during the school term than most people think, preparing and grading most of their evenings. In the pecking order of life, they do not get nearly the respect they deserve. I can tell you from many personal experiences that when I am at a dinner party and the person next to me asks (as only Americans can ask) what I do, and I answer that I am a schoolmaster, they almost always turn immediately to the person on the other side. No, we do not get a great deal of respect even though the job is so important. Teachers teach and stay in teaching because a great school like York Prep, full of children, is one of the most alive places in the world. There is nothing like the energy and spontaneity of young people. Most teachers feed off it and are inspired by it.

So summer is a difficult time, which means that my “thoughts” are more boring because, frankly, I am counting the days until the organized chaos that is September, when everyone is nervous and excited, and the whole wacky and wonderful world of adolescents bursts back upon us. I cannot wait!

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