How many of us have been involved in conversations about teachers who stuck with us? They may have asked the right question, pushed us a bit further than we’d have thought we could go, said something that made us see the world differently, or simply given us the perfect praise just when we needed it. Mrs. Best, Ms. Teinstra, Mr. Ingmundson, Mrs. Grega. The list goes on. I’ve long forgotten those with whom I put in my time as a student, but I still carry with me the new perspectives I encountered, and the confidence that came from having Mrs. Grega say, “You’re a really good writer, Landis.”
Watching kids talk with colleagues of mine, seeing them question and be questioned, I’m often wondering which of those moments I’m seeing as an observer will end up being part of the background of a student’s understanding of himself or herself and how he or she sees the world a quarter century from now. It’s exciting to think about, and it’s often on my mind in these first months of a new school year.
What my teaching colleagues and I know is that the reverse is true, as well. A pointed observation about a text; a kindness extended to another student—or to us as teachers; a curiosity about what is right and a commitment to following the course. There are moments for us as teachers when our students change the way we see the world, and we are comforted and energized to know that the student who just said or did what needed to be said or done is in the world, making it better.
A group of Wildwood School middle school girls joined my colleagues Megen O’Keefe and Madeleine Polinsky to volunteer for the west coast premier of He Named Me Malala, hosted by Girls Build LA and Girls Leadership International. Upper school colleague Deb Christenson also attended with 25 of our upper school young women and men. They’ll be writing a guest blog in “Wildwood Community” about their experience. In the meantime, Craig Polin sent a photo around for the rest of us to see our powerful, engaged, and clearly happy middle school girls in action, dressed in pink T-shirts and in their element, contributing their time and energy to something they believe in.
Looking at the faces of the girls, I couldn’t help but think of how mutually inspiring a day that must have been. Both they, our students, and Megen and Madeleine, their teachers, saw each other investing in making the world better for girls everywhere.
That photo—and thinking about how inspiring those girls are—started me down a path of thinking about young people whom I’ve had the honor of teaching and working with over the years. No surprise, considering the impetus, the student who came to mind is Adam Ellick. Adam, who graduated from Wilmington Friends School in 1995, went on to become a New York Times correspondent. He is one of the people who first recognized the importance of the work that Ziauddin Yousafzai and his daughter Malala were involved in, writing about and filming her story.
Adam and I had a brief email exchange a year or two ago. I thought to thank him for and compliment him on his work, but I realized—looking at Megen’s face in that photo last week—that I hadn’t thought to tell him that he’d had an impact on me all those years ago. I remember Adam as a particularly intense, earnest, wise, kind, and determined-to-find-the-truth upper schooler. Having known him at 17 and having been impressed by his drive and empathy, I wasn’t surprised to learn what he was up to at 27 or 37. He inspired me then, and he continues to.
Twenty years from now, I won’t be at all surprised to learn of the important work that girls in that photo will be doing. It’s exhilarating to think of who and what will inspire them this school year, and how those people and experiences will inform their professional and personal lives. It’s one of the great gifts of teaching, really, to witness those moments that—whether they or we know it when it’s happening—will propel our students to become exactly who they should be.
Head of School