Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Teacher Who Made a Difference

Before you read any further, please take a moment and think back on your middle and high school experience. (For many, if not most, of you, that’s not as long ago as it is for me.)  Who were the teachers who challenged you to work harder, and you did so because you were inspired by their belief in you?  Which teachers could you go to when you were upset about something and just needed an adult besides your parents to listen to you and maybe give you some advice? 

If my high school friends and I were asked these questions, many of us would immediately point to our government teacher, Ms. James.  While much of high school viewed from the perspective of thirty plus years might be a blur, I can still recall the dynamic discussions and passionate debates in her classes as if they happened yesterday.  Never one to tolerate sloppy thinking or arguments without supporting evidence, Ms. James made us think before we spoke.  She pushed us to develop our ideas and speak clearly, but she never did so in a manner that stymied the discussion.  Ms. James made us care deeply about the issues of the late 1970’s, and the conversations that we had in her class didn’t stop just because the bell rang. 

In the same way that Ms. James made us want to be stronger students, Coach Shureleke encouraged us to be better wrestlers and better people.  Yes, he pushed us to improve our technique and have more stamina than our opponents, but he also stressed that responding with class and dignity to losses and victories were as important as the final score.  In addition, his kind and supportive manner made him the adult we would go to when we needed personal advice or guidance. 
I think of these mentors, and many others like them, as I watch the young women and men of Bosque interact with their teachers and coaches.  Again and again, when Bosque students are asked what makes their school different from others, they cite their teachers as our school’s greatest asset. When I hear from alumni, the first questions they ask are about the adults who taught and coached them, describing their former teachers with affection and regard.

I also thought about Ms. James, Coach Shureleke, and the teachers and coaches at Bosque, as I read the essay, “To the Teacher Who Changed My Life: Thank You,” by Slate and Washington Post columnist John Dickerson about his former teacher, Neal Tonken.  As Dickerson relates, and as I so often see in the discussions between Bosque students and their teachers, it’s the discussions outside of class that may be the most formative and important in the lives of young adults.  Dickerson says about Tonken, “Most of all he testified to the messiness of life. In high school a lot of people are trying to fix you and improve you and elevate you. Neal Tonken listened and affirmed that things were confusing. Because he loved passionately, spoke loudly (and occasionally out of turn), and found life overwhelming in both beauty and frustration, he understood what you were saying. What I was saying.” 

It’s important to remember that on many days, students will spend more time with the adults at school than they will with their parents.  For this reason, it’s crucial that we parents have our children in a school where the adults can serve as teachers, coaches, mentors, and sources of advice and inspiration.  I watch the students and teachers of Bosque engage in difficult work together, and I also see them participate in joyous dialogue with one another. I believe it is these interactions that help to make our school unique and why, as head of school and as a fellow Bosque parent, I say to our faculty and staff, “Thank you.”