In the fifth letter of the summer, I propose to take up the question of what it is that teachers do with their summers. Such a question may seem as though it had precious little to do with the education of your children, but I would suggest that what teachers do in the summer is nearly as important as what they do during the academic year.
Part of what makes a great teacher is that they have a proper understanding of leisure. Leisure is not idleness. For the great teacher it is spent improving his life, which is largely the life of the mind, and from this he gains the ability, the skill or vocation, by which he may find gainful employment in improving the lives of others. If he is very fortunate, his avocation becomes, for a portion of each year, his vocation. There is a quiet nobility to what can be accomplished between the able tutor and the ready pupil.
There is a practical and less organic dimension, and nowhere is this more apparent than during August’s teacher training. The teachers read and discuss books with each other to practice engaging one another in a conversation about those things which matter most – ideas, because it is from ideas which all of our actions, talents, tastes, prejudices, preferences, and everything else arise which define our world. To quote the title of one of Richard Weaver’s books, “ideas have consequences.”
Teachers spend some time learning how to use the photocopiers, what is or is not in dress code, how to maintain correspondence with parents, use the school’s technology, and many other things. The bulk of their efforts, however, are directed towards establishing a culture within which learning itself is revered. Tradition, that democracy of the dead as Burke referred to it, is highly regarded in a place like Ridgeview, and our teachers take seriously the idea of themselves as the guardians and bestowers of a civilization. This, though, is but a part of their training. The other part of it is an examination of what they do and how they do it.
This year teachers will be reading and discussing Jefferson’s Demons: Portrait of a Restless Mind by Michael Knox Beran, The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet, “What is a School? An Institution in Limbo,” by Jacquez Barzun, and Hail and Farewell by Donald Kagan.
A teacher spends no small portion of their summer in their classrooms preparing to do again what they have done before. Each year offers up new reflections and considerations about how a course or a class or a lesson can be improved. A good teacher is never satisfied and a great teacher never ceases to tinker and fine tune a course so that each generation of students has it a little better than their predecessors. They are also researching and delving more deeply into the subjects that keep their fires lit. The great teacher does what he does out of an insatiable curiosity and if it is genuine, he cannot help but be contagious to the students who will soon be returning. In choosing a faculty for our school, we do so with the welfare of your children foremost in our minds. There may be no perfect teachers, but we aim to recruit, develop, and retain great teachers that will provide your children with the educational opportunity of a lifetime.