When my kids were little, one of their favorite bedtime stories was The Teacher from the Black Lagoon, by Mike Thaler, featuring a quite evil green monster teacher who conducts evil, green-monstery things to her pupils in various terrifying yet hilarious ways. You won’t be surprised to learn that the series also produced a sequel: The Principal from the Black Lagoon, a lowly cousin of the first. It featured the principal, who followed nicely on the stereotypes of principals in just about every book, movie, or television show with which you are no doubt familiar: middle-aged, balding, white, male, mostly doddering, and fooled by the kids who are always smarter and faster.
Smarter and faster students aside (they always have been), I’ve spent my career running away from that stereotype. Surrounded as I’ve always been lucky to be by (non-monster) whip-smart, passionate, dedicated educators, I’ve strived to be an educator who prioritized learning culture, intellectual, artistic, and scientific pursuits. I love being in a school that buzzes with energy because of how the electricity of learning, laughter, and the excited noise of a playground filled with unique voices energize my growth.
2020 made it even clearer to me what it takes to be a great teacher and an excellent school. 2020 and our response was like Newton’s Third Law of Motion. 2020 was in many ways a powerfully negative force that begat an equal and opposite force: the response of a great school, driven by essential beliefs about education: the potential of every individual, the power of relationships, unyielding ambition, and resilience and perseverance in abundance.
We are stronger than ever in those areas, even with more of the storm ahead to weather. I have heard from many of you how proud that has made you be part of our community, even when we struggle or fall short, and I feel the same. As we went through the spring, summer, and fall together, our community showed strength, hope, compassion, excellence, resilience, and perseverance.
So, while I was more than glad (truly) to turn the page to January 1, 2021, I know that 2020 has given us gifts and wishes that I hope we take with us into 2021. As part of a holiday gift for faculty and staff this year, we gave each a set of flags sent to me in September by a Hamilton family. The note that came with them encouraged me to reframe 2020 as a set of gifts. The flags encapsulate some of what we learned from 2020: be imperfect and gracious, be inclusive and kind, be bold and engaged, be compassionate and grateful, be tireless and patient, seek connections and keep growing. (Here’s a picture of Mrs. Donahue at our Welcome Desk with her flags.) Over the break, I took some time to look back at how much I learned and will take from 2020.
At the end of the Teacher from the Black Lagoon, the main character awakens and learns that it has all been a dream – that his teacher is not a monster and is, in fact, wonderful – and appreciates his real teacher all the more. In this new year, I wish us all the things we hope for – some normalcy, vaccines, good health, more of what we love about being together at Wheeler. But I also wish that we will keep the best of what we learned in 2020 and that we will bring a whole lot of compassion for ourselves, our neighbors, and our community as the light comes back to the world.
Happy new year.
Allison Gaines Pell,
Head of School