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April 17, 2017

So to all her teachers, I thank you

Fostering Community

How did it happen? Yesterday (or so it seems), she refused to go to overnight camp. Today, she’s travelling across Southeast Asia for six weeks with a self-built itinerary that rivals the D-Day landing in its attention to detail. Granted, she’s packed enough first aid supplies to outfit a Doctors Without Borders field hospital, but the idea that my sometimes tentative, often anxious, always shy little girl has grown into an intrepid young woman ready to discover the world is truly remarkable. She still exercises a good degree of sensible caution in life, but she’s replaced a fear of the unknown with a passion to explore. That, to me, is remarkable. And for that, I would like to thank her teachers.

I know, as a mother, I did my best to build my daughter’s confidence, to alleviate her fears, and to help her come out of her shell. But I also know that I was “mom”, and like most mothers, I often heard the cry, “Moooooommm, you don’t understand!” I believe I did understand but that wasn’t the point. My daughter needed more than me to help her believe in herself, and that’s where her teachers and her school came into play.

I often talk to parents about the value of an all-girls’ education and the gift of a small school community. There is research aplenty espousing the benefits of both, and I know it so well that the facts trip off my tongue. But there’s something about seeing it manifest in my own daughter that gives added credence to the claims.

Olivia was blessed to be known by her teachers. She wasn’t simply one of many in the classroom or in the halls. She was Olivia. Her struggles, her strengths, her failures, her victories – they were all seen. Her teachers got to know her inside the classroom because they were skilled. They got to know her outside the classroom because they were involved. And they talked to me about how to move her forward because they cared. That’s the gift of a small school.

Being part of an all-girls’ environment was also important in helping Olivia mature from a shy young girl into a still quiet but self-possessed young woman. Her confidence, her willingness to rise to a challenge, and her ability to bounce back from failure are the result of her being surrounded by exceptional female role models when she was in the lower grades and in the expectation that she would become just such a role model in the upper grades. The all-girls’ setting gave her more opportunity in the classroom to use her voice. It gave her more time in her teens to figure out who she was without the daily pressure of boys. And for an initially tentative girl like my daughter, it provided the sort of nurturing, gentle nudge that pushed her forward in a way that felt safe and encouraging. That’s the value of an all-girls’ education.

I firmly believe that this small school, all-girls’ experience prepared Olivia for the competitive, fast-paced, male-dominated environment she encountered in business school. She knew how to articulate her ideas so that she was heard, the pressure didn’t intimidate her, and she was able to assert herself when needed. She made great friends, both male and female, and graduated with a good sense of who she is and what she wants to contribute in life.

So to all her teachers, I thank you. Some of you know the impact you had. Others may not. But I saw how the accumulation of daily interactions over the course of many years brought about a positive change in this young girl who is now an extraordinary young woman. Of course, I think she’s extraordinary but that’s because I’m her mother. She is, in fact, just like many of the other girls you’ve taught, each one extraordinary in her own way, and each one better prepared to explore new horizons because of your kindness and dedication.

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