What are your students catching?

Yesterday, the Writer’s Almanac posted a poem called “Teenagers” by Pat Mora.  It captures so well the reality that parents of teenagers often face when their children begin to close them out of their lives.  Fortunately, it also reminds us that, eventually, the door re-opens and a wonderful young adult emerges. (I’ve posted the poem at below.)IMG_5267

With Mora’s poem fresh on my mind, I read today’s parent newsletter from our Upper School Head, Deb Otey.  Deb reflects on some of her experiences as a student, a teacher, and a parent — and reminds us that our children (even when they are not speaking to us!) are watching and  learning from us everyday.

I share Deb’s message here — and invite you to contact us if you are interested in learning more about enrolling your child at Cannon School:

…from Deb Otey – Upper School Head

“Children catch more than they learn.” Have you ever heard this statement? The first time I heard it was about fifteen years ago when I was a young, energetic eighth-grade English teacher at Kinnikinnick Middle School in Roscoe, Illinois. It took a while for this brief quote to register, but after I “got it,” I began seeing it in action all around me. Students would fixate on mannerisms, sayings, and personality traits of teachers, and I would hear about it often. I began to wonder what they were saying about me to the other teachers. What was I really teaching my students? What were they “catching” from me?

If you think about it, you might even be able to recall things you “caught” from teachers in your past. Ideally, those tidbits you “caught” would be helpful and make a true impact on your learning and development. However, some of the bits of information that you remember might not be the most helpful, or they might even seem trivial or silly. The only word I remember from my eleventh-grade French class is the word for “trashcan.” It seemed our teacher was mostly concerned with our chewing gum in class, and she would repeat that word daily. Her goal was to teach us French, but all I recall is her obsession with the waste basket.

Recently, when my husband and I attended an on-campus presentation by author and psychologist Robert Evans, we heard another quote similar to the one above that resonated with us. He said, “You (parents) are teaching them (your children) all the time. When you think you’re teaching, you’re really preaching. Your children learn more from your example than from your speeches.”

When I heard that, immediately I thought of my own parenting and how my speeches must sound to my boys. Maybe sometimes they tune me out, or perhaps I sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher (whah, whah, whah, whah, whah) talking, and talking, and talking. What I truly desire is for the life I lead, the way I treat people, my work ethic, my integrity, and my personal values to be what my kids learn from me. And of course, being surrounded by hundreds of teenagers each day, this is also what I want our students to learn from the adults in the Upper School. Perfection is not possible, but Robert Evans assured us that we only need to make sure that “the positive influences simply outweigh the negative ones.”

Maybe over the upcoming winter break you will have some extra time, not simply to “talk to” your children, but also to live your life right in front of them. I’m sure they will be watching and learning.

Pat Mora’s poem:


One day they disappear
into their rooms.
Doors and lips shut
and we become strangers
in our own home.

I pace the hall, hear whispers,
a code I knew but can’t remember,
mouthed by mouths I taught to speak.

Years later the door opens.
I see faces I once held,
open as sunflowers in my hands. I see
familiar skin now stretched on long bodies
that move past me
glowing almost like pearls.

-by Pat Mora, from Communion. © Arte Público Press, 1991.