December 12, 2011
The arrival of exams serves as a clear reminder of the fact that for all of the many activities ─ educational (in the broadest sense of that word) and social ─ that are a part of the Ravenscroft program, we are first and foremost a place whose core mission is rooted in academics.
Obviously, if only because of nightly homework responsibilities, few students or families are ever likely to truly forget the academic side of our program, but it is easy to lose sight of what the process is really about. I am certainly not blind to the realities of grades or GPA or college admissions pressure, as having a senior daughter going through the college admissions process makes that impossible. However, I am no less blind to the reasons I entered this profession or to the motivations and inspirations of my many colleagues, or to the countless memories of shared discoveries and enhanced understandings by past students, all of which continue to fuel my daily efforts.
While it may sound idealistic or even unrealistic to speak of teaching and learning in this way at this time of year, I would contend that now more than ever we must be reminded of our central purposes and reaffirm and recommit ourselves to that part of our program. While As and Fs will ultimately fade into the past, the true impact of the teaching and learning process is eternal. The central aspect of a quality education is a rigorous academic program, and at its best it is marked by numerous life changing experiences.
Indeed, whether it is the sense of excitement found in scientific exploration and discovery; the “ah ha” moment that occurs when an idea resonates; the aspect of life that suddenly takes on a whole new meaning when a passage in a book becomes more than just a narrative; the instant when an historical event becomes more than just the depiction of people now long dead, but instead becomes the foundation for an understanding of a reality of modern life – these are the moments when the academic program can cast new light on life itself.
Is it a perfect process? No. Do we always get it right? Of course not. Do we sometimes get going too fast, influenced too much by a need to be sure we cover the material, and in the process lose perspective as well as the time for reflection that characterizes the best teaching and learning? Guilty on that count, too. But none of that diminishes the importance of the journey or our determination to do it right; to offer an academic experience that provides a foundation and motivation for a life of meaningful learning. There is no single way to do it, but regardless of the particular approach, the effort is always aimed at fully engaging each of our students in a process intended to expand their horizons and their understanding, while simultaneously opening their eyes and minds to new possibilities for themselves and their world.
Admittedly, for all our best efforts it does not always resonate ─ that is an inherent and immutable truth in the supremely human undertaking that is teaching. And yet none of that alters that fact that as teachers we are committed to making this a process that opens up new doors, introduces students to new ideas, and helps them grow and develop intellectually, all the while nurturing and fostering a true appreciation of the life of the mind; for it is an engine that will enrich their whole life experience. Ultimately that is why it is so important for all of us.