Welcome to Heads Up, a blogging experiment that aims to:
- connect the people, parts, and principles of Durham Academy;
- share ideas about learning and human development;
- spotlight a few of the many wondrous things I get to see every day at Durham Academy.
Thanks for reading the posts below — and sending news, links and ideas worth sharing.
Michael Ulku-Steiner, Head of School
Learning from wise aliens
In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, protagonist Billy Pilgrim comes “unstuck in time.”
I look forward to coming unstuck a bit myself this week, as we dip into our past and welcome DA alumni and retired teachers back to campus.
On Thursday, Tim McKenna, Lee Hark and I will host a “Legends Lunch” for faculty and staff who retired after fifteen or more years of service to DA. A few dozen legendary life-changers (including Dave Gould, Harriet King, Bobbie Hardaker, Liz Jasinski, Beth Cornwall and Dick Forringer) will tour our new gym and Learning Commons, hear about our 2015 Strategic Plan and reconnect with old friends.
On Friday, we’ll welcome a few hundred alumni for a barbecue/reunion in the midst of our whole-school Homecoming festivities and athletic contests. More info here about the alumni events. And here about our first-ever all-school Pep Rally on Friday afternoon.
I love these reunions. They stir warm and often hilarious recollections of younger days. Having started teaching at DA at age 22 and made as many mistakes as memories, I love reconnecting with students and hearing which of their DA experiences stuck in their brains and which are serving them most usefully in their current lives.
These reunions reveal the emotional glue that gets slathered on through (good, bad, and ugly) school experiences and solidifies into life-long friendships, helpful habits and robust loyalty to Durham Academy.
Mostly, reunions remind me of my favorite superpower: time.
Especially as I parent my own two children through the raging rapids of adolescence, it is profoundly reassuring to see the calmer, wider rivers of my former students’ lives. They all grow up!
It is especially beautiful to see the ones about whom we teachers worried, those who had little motivation for homework, those who pushed beyond the boundaries of our rules. Nearly always, these students find their better selves, discover their proper paths, and – remarkably – return to DA expressing gratitude for all they took from this place.
I’ve been thinking about Vonnegut this weekend because his notion of Tralfamadorian time strikes me as worthy of adoption by teachers and parents alike.
In Slaughterhouse Five, the Tralfamadorians are extraterrestrials who kidnap the earthling Billy Pilgrim, keep him in a zoo for many years and leave him with new insights about humanity. Here’s Billy:
“The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.”
On one hand, all moments are permanent. Our memories from school are there to harvest and appreciate whenever we gather with classmates and old friends.
On the other hand, time is fleeting, fast, and immensely powerful. The best teachers and parents see children as the Tralfamadorians do. The current selves of our students are interesting . . . but impermanent. Far more compelling are their selves-in-the-making – the moral, happy, productive people they will surely be.
One of the best teacher gifts I’ve ever received was a handwritten card that read as follows:
“Thanks for seeing me not as the person I was but as the person I could be. And thanks for always treating me like that second guy.”
The student who wrote that note in the 1990's – whom I taught in Spanish 3 and coached on the JV basketball team - was Costen Irons (now a LS/MS Teacher and Track/Cross Country Coach). What a pleasure to join Costen as a colleague this weekend as we welcome back our students and some of the teachers who helped make them who they are today.
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