I am traveling this week, criss-crossing the country from Atlanta to San Francisco, which is where I am today near Union Square. I can’t help but wander over to the Apple Store at times, venturing in to ogle the newest products. How could I not? There, on the front of the store, a huge photograph advertises the AirPod noise cancelling headphones, the newest iteration of a wildly popular little knobby white knuckles people are popping in their ears all over the world to listen to music and podcasts and to talk on the phone. I had to try them out, and I have to admit to being impressed. But this got me thinking about whether education is simply a product that goes through iterative phases. It made me a little uneasy.
Crafting a mission statement is an impossible task. How, in a paragraph or two, can you capture the entirety of a complex learning community like Proctor? How can you concisely provide the north star toward which your school constantly works? We talk about our core values and key programs, but one short phrase in the middle of our mission statement cuts to the very heart of our beliefs about education: We recognize the potential of each member of the community to stretch beyond what had been thought possible.
I think back on my middle-school days as the worst part of my youth. My school (like most middle-schools I’m sure) was a sea of insecurity. Kids combatted their fears of exclusion by labeling and othering. These categories created a sense of security and belonging for some, and a sense of loneliness and longing for others. I became more concerned with how I was being seen by others than figuring out my own interests and passions. I thought one day, after observing a popular eighth-grade boy named John strut through the halls with a confident swagger, this kid knows who he is, he has it all figured out. I later mimicked his mannerisms, constructing my identity around what appeared to be the culturally accepted and lauded one.
August is knocking on the door. Tomorrow we will have to answer. And we all know that when August arrives, our focus shifts to the start of the school year: advisor letters, roommate assignments for new students, start of year faculty meetings, Wilderness Orientation prep, firming up syllabi. We cling to the hot, humid days of July, anticipating the busyness and energy that accompanies each new school year.
We have officially surpassed the midpoint of summer. Sadly, just five weeks stand between us and the start of new faculty orientation, faculty meetings, and the slow build up to the start of the year. Between now and then, we will enjoy sunshine, warm temperatures, and regular swims in Elbow Pond. We will read, journal, and listen to all the podcasts we don’t have time for during the school year. We will take time to reflect on our work as educators and our role in influencing young people’s lives at Proctor.
A theme seems to be developing in our blog posts this summer. Two weeks ago we shared thoughts on the balance of disruption and vision at independent schools, and this post from last week discussed our personal investment in student growth. Regularly exploring the bigger, existential “why” of our educational model challenges us to recommit to what we believe and why we believe it.
For teachers, the rhythm of the calendar year is inextricably tied to the cycle of the academic calendar. Boarding school life amplifies those rhythms: when we are on, we are ON, and when we are off, we try to unplug and recharge. As we prepare to turn the calendar to July, we are still in the early phases of recharging, but cannot help but feel the emptiness of campus this time of year.
Irrational fears are often rooted in an experience, a moment in time when our innocence is lost or our perspective shifts drastically. I’m terrified of sailing. It is an irrational fear born of a family sail aboard our 17 foot day sailer as a young child. I don’t remember the specifics, but simply recall the sensation of lost control, of tipping on edge, of feeling helpless. For years after my father worked to help me overcome this fear, attempting to teach me how to sail, how to manage gusts of wind, explaining ad nauseam there is always an escape plan in an emergency as long as you are prepared for it.