JAIMS, Volume 2, November 2014

What Is Best in Independent School Life Is Best in the Opening Remarks of “The Headmaster’s Papers”

 Daniel Keller, Severn School

The epistolary novel, The Headmasters Papers, is an eloquent window into the edgy life of independent schools. Exposing one ardent mind, the novel reveals the often counterpoint (or stodgy points) from the archaic, if mannerly and admirable, John Greeve, headmaster of Wells School. A rhetorical tour de force, each letter persuasively shows the measured thinking of a school leader going against the grain of the slapdash conduct of others and ourselves. There is a little of an ‘ivory tower’ pattern in the headmaster, too. His deep loyalty to Wells School aids a view of life in overly scholastic ways, but these are welcome ways, I argue, to the mass appeal of the instant, the faceless, the disconnected world of today. The letters naturally form a narrative. The novel’s opening letter, however, articulates what is best about independent schools. In a single letter, Headmaster Greeve strikes up his outlook of private school life to nephew, Hugh Greeve.

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Fermi Questions – A STEM Activity for Middle School

Alessandra King, Holton-Arms School

Introduction

Fermi questions are open-ended problems that require estimates of quantities about which one knows very little, just by using some commonly available knowledge and simple calculations. These problems take their name from the Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi, Nobel Prize winner and member of the Manhattan project, who was well-known for his extra-ordinary ability to arrive at precise estimations with little or no starting data. Legend has him calculating the power of the atomic explosion at Trinity by looking at the distance his handkerchief travelled after he dropped it as the shockwave was passing through, and determining it within a factor of 2.

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How Social Media and Mobile Technology Could Make School Communications Purely Reactive in a Crisis Situation

Spencer Taintor, Calverton School

It was the second day of school and several of our grade levels were on trips for bonding and character building. Students were excited and anxious all at the same time as they bonded with new students while holding on to their life-long friends. I remember I was sitting in my office having just finished greeting our youngest students to school that day, when the school’s  Marketing and Communications Director came rushing in and said that our 8th grade bus had just been in an accident and EMS was on the way. I immediately ran to her office, which is our predesigned meeting point for all emergency responses to school crisis situations. Our teachers had performed exactly as trained, which was to quickly assess the situation, call emergency rescue if needed, and then contact the school. We were informed that there were no apparent injuries and the accident was a minor one with the front of the bus being only slightly damaged. State police had communicated to us that EMS had already arrived and had checked on the students. We immediately relayed this information to our parents while keeping in constant communication with our teachers who were still on the bus. We had communicated to our community within ten minutes after the accident.

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Inspiring Leadership in All Students

Jay Parker, Calvert School

Katie radiates an aura of determination softened by a disarming smile. In January, she delivered a mesmerizing 8th grade speech to the school recalling the plight of her maternal grandparents. Born in the countryside of North Korea, they barely escaped the onset of communist forces before stowing away to South Korea and ultimately the United States forty years ago. Purpose and resolve are entrenched in her daily endeavors, yet her soft side is just as evident. Often in the morning, Katie will greet me as I walk into school holding hands with my two year-old daughter. She smiles at her and tells her how cute she looks, then looks at me deadpan and says “Mr. Parker, I still can’t believe you’re someone’s father, you don’t take ANYTHING seriously!” We both laugh immediately. Katie has a valid point.

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We Want “Walden”

Gregory Alan Brandt, The Park School of Baltimore

I have had Henry David Thoreau in my face every day for about thirty years now. He asks me impertinent questions: Are you awake? Is your life “frittered away by detail”? Why the “incessant anxiety and strain”? He is a teaser, a punster, a terrible pest who provokes me. When I trot into the classroom of the independent day school where I teach English, he saunters in too, becoming more insistent: Do you teach “true books in a true spirit”? Is what you ask of your students “a noble exercise”? Do your efforts “possibly put a new aspect on the face of things” for the young people in your care? Besides a hard time, he also gives me confidence, assuring me that “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.” “The sun is but a morning star,” after all. Thoreau’s Walden should be taught in more schools. In fact, I think every student who graduates from an American high school should have read, and thought about, the book. Listen to E. B. White: “[Walden] still seems to me to be the best youth’s companion yet written by an American, for it carries a solemn warning against the loss of one’s valuables, it advances the argument for traveling light and trying new adventures, it rings with the power of positive adoration, it contains religious feeling without religious images, and it steadfastly refuses to record bad news.” Adding to White’s assessment, Bill McKibben wrote a few years ago that what makes the book essential reading for all Americans is that it asks two questions: How much is enough? and How do I know what I want? Is there anyone who wouldn’t want high school students to ask these questions of themselves and to wonder what it might mean to “spend one day as deliberately as Nature”?

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The Ethos of Teaching

Dan Keller, Severn School, and Gray Smith, Harford Day School

We are,” Aristotle observed, “what we repeatedly do.” Our conduct as teachers significantly shapes our classroom character. We teachers have ample opportunities to set high standards and inspire students to meet both academic and behavioral benchmarks. For example, by continually expressing valid respect toward students, teachers model this human trait, and respect typically grows to a way of life that students may emulate.

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