Teachers Have Changed My Life: A Head’s Letter by Chuck Baldecchi
Posted On April 10, 2019
In my first month on the job fifteen years ago, I met with the “new” faculty for a day of orientation led by Ann Eames, TLS’s legendary English teacher and Director of Professional Development, along with our faculty mentors. Ann led an exercise that morning where she named each of TLS’s Heads of School and asked faculty to step forward if they were hired by that head of school. Ann stepped into the circle when Bud Pritchett was named. As she went through the list, at least one faculty mentor stepped forward as the headmaster that hired them was mentioned. Finally, she named Molly Strassner, my predecessor, and all the newly hired faculty stepped forward. Then she named me, and I stepped in to introduce myself. I remember thinking that morning, I hope to one day leave my own legacy with this faculty.
Teachers have changed my life. When I think back to my childhood, I can remember each teacher from Mrs. Harkness’s four-year-old preschool in the basement of her home to my “tutors” at St. John’s College as I defended my graduate school essays. Each and every one had distinct gifts that allowed me to learn and grow. Teachers are why I got into education. What I came to know is I loved teaching because I always learned from my students. When one becomes a head of school, the faculty in a way become your students, and, as has always been the case for me, I have learned more from my “students” than I have taught.
During the interview process for The Lexington School, I acknowledged openly I knew very little about elementary education. To date, my entire professional career had taken place at boarding high schools. I had no idea what to expect of a four-year-old, a first grader, or a fifth grader, and my knowledge of middle schoolers was mainly interviews and transcripts. I am not quite sure how it happened during that 90-minute interview, but the faculty and I developed a trust and a rapport. What I knew in my heart after that faculty meeting was that The Lexington School was the right school for me. It was the right school because its faculty were professionals who knew their stuff: Mary Beers and her team were preschool child whisperers, Marijo Foster and her lower school faculty had forgotten more elementary pedagogy then I would ever learn in my lifetime, and Una MacCarthy and her faculty loved and understood that mystifying, glorious, and confounding beast known as the middle school student. I knew that for my leadership style and vision to work, I needed experienced professionals in the classroom. It was apparent that I had them.
Over the years, I have been in awe of my colleagues and what they could accomplish with love, sweat, tears, and knowledge. I have seen a shy five-year-old transform into a confident young sprite after her teacher grabbed every teaching moment over nine months to slowly build confidence and voice. Reading and writing is a gift that rewards a person with a lifetime of learning and reflection, but teaching a child to read and write is a labor of love that can be painstaking and trying. It takes a special patience and mastery to do it well. At TLS I have had the honor of watching master educators do it every day. Understanding comes from trial and error—it is easier to sacrifice understanding for memorization. At TLS, I can walk into a science experiment one day or a language arts debate the next and see the messy work of teaching understanding taking place. Master teachers take the time necessary to teach understanding. TLS’s faculty are truly masters of the craft of teaching. I love watching our teachers teach as much as I love watching our students learn.
My gratitude is not limited to teaching faculty and administration. Every employee at The Lexington School contributes to its noble mission. If bills weren’t paid on time in the business office, the school would cease to function. If administrative assistants, admission, and development staff weren’t welcoming, committed ambassadors of the school, we would be diminished. If tears weren’t dried by the loving hug dished out by a cafeteria worker, our students would be malnourished. If a diligent soul didn’t clean up after a sick child’s bout with the flu met the classroom floor, disease would spread more than knowledge. If school nurses and counselors weren’t there to offer an attentive ear or advice and dispense prescriptions and kindness, our wellbeing would decrease. If a coach had not taken the time to explain self-sacrifice and teamwork, our students wouldn’t understand that we can accomplish so much more together than as individuals.
In reality, I have been a student of this faculty for the last fifteen years. It has been the greatest honor of my professional career to serve The Lexington School with them. What I know and respect the most is that they teach as much with their actions as they do with their words. TLS’s faculty teach not only the foundations of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also the foundations of character, friendship, and community. It is noble and caring work done by noble and caring professionals – professionals I am lucky to call my colleagues and, more importantly, my friends.
To the TLS faculty, I am grateful for the lifetime love of learning you have inspired in me and all your students.
P.S. At the beginning of this letter, I tell a story of Ann Eames and our mentoring program. I remember innocently saying to Ann that day, “I see that every new faculty member has a mentor. Do I have a mentor?” Ann smiled and said, “No you don’t. You’re the boss.” I was quiet for a while and then I asked one of the most important questions of my career: “Mrs. Eames, will you be my mentor?” Lucky for me and TLS, she nodded her head and accepted the challenge. Although she retired from teaching at TLS many years ago, Ann still edits every letter of significance I write. I am grateful for all of her quiet work. She is an amazing teacher.