What I Hope Parents Know

I am writing to thank and pay tribute to our Grade 12 parents.

My wife and I are both teachers. Our daily conversations revolve around students, colleagues, and parents, especially our Grade 12 parents, at our two schools. These days we try to imagine, without much success, your sense of disappointment and loss. Our own now-distant parent experiences of this momentous adolescent milestone stands in stark contrast to the one unfolding now.

Pleasurable excitement, relief and reassurance, feelings of pride wrapped in a largely untrammeled view of our children’s imagined future, the script we rehearsed was predictable: celebrations of hard-won accomplishments, a sudden blossoming of maturity and confidence, a mounting sense of gratitude, our combined delight and optimism as a family. Our experiences were invigorated by an abiding faith in the shared partnership of parents and school.

Memories of the Class of 2020

Two months ago my wife and I discussed my plans for retirement. We agreed it would be this, and not next, year. My decision thus yokes me ineluctably to the Class of 2020. I am proud to think of myself as one of its members.

The students I work with most closely were already special to me before my decision; since making it, the details of our work and the features of personality and character along with the many diverse successes and accomplishments have grown more special – and are easy to recall. The recalling has been an important daily pastime to help me (and no doubt my colleagues) to feel connected to our continuing work. The memories are poignant and sustaining. Nothing will replace the special celebrations that distinguish SMUS graduation for your children or for you. And yet, I hope you feel and believe that the school has served your children well, that notwithstanding the profound sense of deprivation there is also much to celebrate.

Reflections from Weekly Tutorials

Three personal glimpses of student experience are instructive not only for the compelling values they embody but also for what I offer as a source of hope to illuminate our shared struggle.

Of these three students, two are international; two are women; two are scientists and one is deeply invested in the humanities. All have pursued community service gestures seriously and with great creativity, at school and in their larger communities at home. Quiet, they all nonetheless move with social ease and alacrity, have a wide circle of friends, smile and laugh easily, shrug off personal disappointment with stoic composure, face criticism with honesty, and take personal risks with equanimity. And they love their school – and express it with unabashed enthusiasm.

A long time ago now, I ran Tuesday evening sessions for students working on their writing for university applications. My disciples filed in, inhabiting the space with a kind of monkish devotion, these three in particular. The American writer Henry James could very well have had SMUS students in mind when he said that the writer was “someone on whom nothing is lost.” Their pleasure in the ordinary was infectious and, likewise, their pursuit of every opportunity seemed tireless and full of joy. Our explorations became like a door springing wide open, disclosing a panorama of new possibilities.

Thank You, Parents

Parents, you didn’t sign up for this. Boarding parents, in particular, you entrusted your children to us, in many cases across thousands of miles, and dire circumstances have meant returning them to you before our work was done. And nothing in your SMUS parent experience has prepared you for the demands and challenges of this crisis and its remote learning supervisory requirements.

I hope there is a silver lining in this time for you. I hope in this unique moment of solidarity between home and school you are getting to witness more directly and powerfully than might have been the case examples of deep and diverse learning, expressions of affection for school, the satisfaction in growing intellectual competence, and the remarkable flexibility in their adaptation to change.

Perhaps you’re listening in on a class, peering over a shoulder hunched over a laptop as your child writes a paper, notes and texts sprawled around on the kitchen table, or puzzles over a physics problem, or surmounts frustration to master the complex array of details in an historical era. Your role is now indispensable, part of a new variable in the learning equation and searching for its own balance.

The Roman philosopher Epictetus taught his students, and an emperor, the importance of facing the unfairness of life with honesty and courage. This is a hard lesson to learn – at any stage and under almost any circumstances. I am confident that this difficult new learning, however, will have rich and unexpected benefits, that our students, your children, will know what to do with it as they prepare to leave your care and invent a new future for themselves.

We appreciate your generous encouragement, your willingness to be flexible and your extraordinary help in deepening the special partnership to support your children and their teachers. Stay safe.

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