Sunday, April 26, 2015

“Embracing the Optimism," Part II: Our Teachers

Student assembly address

Last week I mentioned that as I prepare to leave as JPII’s second headmaster, I wanted to reflect with you on why I believe JPII is such an exceptional school. Last week, I focused on you, the students, who embrace the optimism of this place, living out our renaissance ideal whereby you strive to become scholars, people of faith, athletes, and artists. This morning, I want to reflect on the people who set the bar and the context for this optimism: your teachers.

I think it’s worth remembering the ambitiousness of our goals for you here: 32 credits for graduation, service requirements, three years of foreign language, three years of the arts, broad enrollments in A.P. courses; we play in the most competitive athletic division in Tennessee, striving to be an excellent Catholic school in Tennessee’s most competitive market for private schools. We have truly created a school that has tried to live out what Michelangelo once said: "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."

But all of these lofty expectations are just meaningless drivel unless a school has a faculty and staff willing to work with you to make it so. The remarkable thing about JPII isn’t our goals, but that you achieve them, and you do so because your teachers help you. You recognize this. In survey after survey, you cite your teachers as to what is truly special here. Here are some of your recent comments:

The teachers are very good listeners and really help us.

The teachers are willing to take the extra time to help a student in his or her studies.

The rigorous academic curriculum is made possible by teachers who are willing to put time into helping students.

Before JPII, I never had a teacher who would stay after school to help with any of my problems in their class.

Teachers give students plenty of opportunities to go to tutorials and get help with their work. The teachers are friendly and understanding.

I love how the teachers at JPII put an effort into making learning new concepts fun and how they’re always helpful and there if you need help with something.

The faculty and staff are just amazing. From those who have been there from the beginning, to new teachers, all seem to be linked in a drive to assist students in their pursuit of learning and academic excellence. Within the classroom, most of the teachers are unmatched on their ability to keep student interest and to convey the information for their subject. It is also apparent that the teachers sacrifice a large amount of time outside of the classroom, both for helping students and for coaching, chaperoning, and leading many clubs and activities.

An outgoing senior said: The strengths of JP II are definitely the powerful relationships that are built between faculty and students. The teachers genuinely care about whether or not their students succeed. I know I was able to develop wonderful and unforgettable connections with most members of the faculty and staff.

I have been honored to work for seven years with teachers who are the very top of their profession— knowledgeable about their subject matter, caring, generous with their time, self-sacrificing, deeply committed to the mission of JPII. When I came to JPII in 2008, I told the Board that when I looked under the hood of JPII, what I saw was a Ferrari. And I am happy to report that all the data says, 7 years later, we’re still a Ferrari. I’ve had the great privilege of sitting in the driver’s seat and steering this race car, but what makes a race car isn’t the driver, it’s the engine—and the engine here is a magnificent group of men and women who work here, who teach here, and who coach here. 

Before I announce those teachers whom you believe are especially worthy of recognition as part of our annual Harvest Awards, can I ask that all of our teachers and staff stand, please, and can we thank them as a school for all they’ve done for us?

The Harvest Awards are annual awards we give to teachers whom you believe are exceptional here at JPII. Teachers so recognized are given a plaque, and through a generous donor, a cash award. The donor insists this award be determined by a vote of the students, so these people I call forward are teachers you’ve chosen. I will only add that I regret we cannot honor twice as many people this morning, because when I do the annual performance reviews at the end of the year with department chairs and Mrs. Phillips, we have many exceptional faculty and staff here who are also deserving of this award.

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