Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints’ Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

A young Richard Dreyfuss, driving a 1962 Corvair in the opening scene, begins his career as a music teacher in the 1995 movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Each successive chapter of this wonderful film effectively reflects changes in dress, attitudes, and even speech as the years progress. Crew cuts and long skirts give way to long hair and tie-dyed clothes. The soundtrack was carefully selected to move from early rock through acid rock to modern popular music. It’s a montage of high school experiences. When the newly-fired, gray-haired Holland enters his high school auditorium in the final scene to conduct his masterpiece, few teachers that I know are able to hold back the tears.

I was talking with another head of school the other day regarding the cultural and attitudinal changes that we’ve seen during our careers. We both began in 1977. Just so you can really get a feel for how long ago that was, you should know that we used manual typewriters to produce ditto sheets, wrote report cards by hand, and most schools had precisely two telephones. (Well, there would have also been a pay phone for student use, but let that pass.) In those days no one was talking about the triangle of teacher-student-parent: a geometric image where each leg of this equilateral triangle is necessary for academic success. No, in those days our thinking was much more linear. The teacher taught, made assignments, and evaluated work. The student learned, performed tasks, and received grades. The only real role the parent played in academic work can probably be summed up with “do what your teachers says.”

The number one complaint I hear from teachers these days addresses this subject. It appears that parents have gradually moved from a position of general support of teachers to one of being their child’s “agent”. The emerging role, then, is played out with parents trying to work a better deal on behalf of their children. Not only does this shift create an adversarial relationship, but I believe it handicaps children as they move toward an adulthood where personal responsibility is expected. It should come as no surprise, then, that one rarely hears even an echo of the cry from years past: “Mom! I can do it myself!” In other words, even our children have moved into their new roles as passive receivers of their agents’ good intentions. It does not occur to them that they “can do it themselves.”

This dismal picture is not, of course, universally true. The universal truth is that change happens. Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, said that we can’t put our foot in the same stream twice. Parents and teachers and students adapt. The “agent” role will shift to something new, priorities will be adjusted, and those who have a hunger to learn will continue to learn. My goal? Keep my eye on the prize while navigating the stream.

“Henry G. Selby, headmaster of All Saints’ Episcopal School in Morristown, is a popular speaker at seminars, conferences, civic events, and professional development meetings. He would be delighted to speak at your next meeting. Please call the school for more information.”

Source: Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristonw, TN