The following letter is adapted from remarks shared at the Parents Association Spring Luncheon on Thursday, April 21.
It is a common practice at independent schools for employees to celebrate one another at the end of each school year, with special recognition conferred on departing or retiring teachers and staff – especially those who have achieved extensive tenures of service – as well as those who are marking milestone years of employment.
At every other school where I have worked, all of these recognitions are bestowed at an employee luncheon just before the summer vacation begins. We host such a luncheon at MICDS, too, but with a more limited focus on employee departures and retirements. Major milestones are honored earlier in the spring, at our final all-school assembly, so that students can take part in celebrating our long-serving teachers and staff as well. I love this exception to standard practice, and it has been my privilege this spring to honor the 31 men and women who are celebrating major employment milestones as the 2021-2022 school year concludes.
We would be nothing at MICDS without the extraordinary people who work here. Teaching in particular requires a very special set of qualifications: a high level of intelligence and education; a boundless capacity for love of, and patience with, other people’s children (as if boundless love and patience weren’t sometimes tough enough to come by with our own children!); and a willingness to be compensated at rates lower than one’s abilities would merit in other professions.
Perhaps more than any other obligation of my position, the responsibility to recruit, hire, and retain an exceptional teaching faculty has occupied my attention this year, as I know it has occupied the attention of elementary and secondary school leaders across the country. A rising national teacher shortage, long forecasted, has only accelerated through the pandemic. Teachers have been on the front lines of virtual and hybrid learning adaptations, masking and social distancing enforcement, and an increasing incidence of student behavioral issues and mental health challenges, not to mention intransigent controversies about textbooks, critical race theory, and social emotional learning. Widespread teacher burnout is a challenge to the healthy functioning of American society, and while we are thankfully not witnessing a high rate of faculty attrition at MICDS, we must continue to ensure that our teachers are respected and supported as they do their good work here every day.
My college roommates have all been very successful. One is a partner at a large Chicago law firm, another an accomplished CEO in Washington, DC, another a partner at a venture capital firm in Atlanta. For many years, I have enjoyed forwarding them some of my work emails. “Breakfast for lunch today” is a classic. (When I pass this one along, I usually ask something like, “I assume that scrambled eggs will also be served at your offices?”) Then there’s “Vomit outside the second grade classroom!” (“Please come by to help when you can,” I will instruct my old roommates above the forwarded message.) My all-time favorite, however, has to be “The laminator is down!” (“Be sure to outsource all of your own laminating until further notice,” I will advise them as I forward this information.)
School faculties are needlessly embattled in contemporary American life. Throughout a career spent in their good company, I have never known teachers to be radical indoctrinators of children or malcontents who get summers off but still grouse about their work. In my experience, teachers are almost invariably selfless adults with big and open hearts for children who sometimes have to figure out what they’re going to eat when French toast shows up for lunch, or what to do about that vomit in the hallway, or how to adapt when the laminator hits the skids.
I do not mean to imply that you as MICDS parents do not understand these things already, because I know that you do. I am also not contending that teachers are perfect, because they are not. We are all human, and only human, and schools are thoroughly human places. Our teachers sometimes have bad days, and they sometimes make mistakes. But I would appeal to you always to proceed from a place of trust as you partner with them on behalf of your children, and when mistakes occur, that you always find space for understanding and forgiveness.
I should confess to you that I have occasionally complained about my own children’s schools. Between them, they have attended three at which I was not also employed, and in my weaker moments – notwithstanding my own choice of career (self-awareness much?) – I have found myself asking pointless questions like, “What in the world are they doing over there?” or “Who could possibly think this was a good idea?” or even “Who’s running that place anyway?” I am only human after all. In hindsight, though, I have felt greater – and more consistent – gratitude for these schools than I sometimes felt in the moment, and it only grows with time.
I almost always enjoy my conversations with past MICDS parents, whose own gratitude for their children’s experiences seems, in ways similar to mine, only to appreciate in hindsight. “When I was a boy of fourteen,” Mark Twain is alleged to have said, “my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” The relationship between a parent and a school, I think, goes something like that.
I thank you for your trust in our wonderful MICDS faculty, and for your understanding and forgiveness when challenges arise as we proceed in partnership together. Our teachers love being here with your children every day. Thank you for the gift of them as they learn and grow in your care and ours.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish you and your families a very happy weekend ahead.
Head of School