What a timely topic – in light of the current run for the White House. If past reputations aren’t getting in the way there, I don’t know what is! I have been in my chosen career for almost thirty years now, the last fourteen being at our private school. I often think about what my reputation is. I didn’t stay at the schools the first fifteen years long enough to gain much of a reputation because of the military. I wouldn’t be concerned about those reputations anyway because I won’t live in those places again. I do worry about my reputation at this school, though, because I will live here probably the rest of my life. When I think back to the early years… man, I was so out of my league. I had been teaching elementary and middle school for all of my career. My first class at Lawton Academy was similar to a one-room classroom. I had fifteen fifth through eighth graders. It was fantastic. Then I made a move to include high school at Lawton Academy. I had taught high schoolers in Sunday School and youth programs, but I did not really understand what was ahead. I made many mistakes – mistakes that were necessary to me becoming what I am today – but mistakes nonetheless. My son was in that first class of high schoolers. I do a much better job now, and I sometimes wish I could have been better for him. But then I stop myself from thinking like that. He has pointed out to me several times that the first group of high schoolers we had were very smart kids rebelling against society’s definition of “school.” It took that type of strong-minded opposition to forge a high school like ours…very similar to our Founding Fathers! I pretty much just held on as they laid paths that my students enjoy to this day. Oh sure, the ratio of student control to my control switched places gradually over the years, but I would say that at least 60% of what we do at LAAS was put in place by these early groups, and that 60% is a lot of what makes our school so appealing to youth.
Since then, our typical high school student is one we’ve pretty much raised in our program. Now, that 60% that was originally put in place because of rebellion against the status quo expands my high schoolers’ visions about their future. They see a much bigger picture than most kids their age. I am very happy with what we built.
I made a lot of parents very mad during that time. I was letting kids explore and invent. That’s always dangerous. Kids made sketchy music and questionable art, and they exercised political opinions that often ran contrary to their parents’ beliefs (including my own child!). It wasn’t just the “exploring” that made parents mad – don’t get me wrong. I made a lot of rookie mistakes that I’d love to sweep under the carpet. During that time, people either loved me or hated me. Nobody was ambivalent!
Fourteen years later, I still am embarrassed by some of those mistakes, but I am proud of what we’ve built. We have turned out enough great students that our school’s reputation has become a really good one. Our parents and I have a really good working relationship, and I think I have established the reputation of being “fair.” That’s huge to me.
Recently my husband joined out faculty, and we have begun making a plan for our future with the school as part owners. We don’t want the world. We just want to make sure that the students who come through Lawton Academy of Arts & Sciences know that they can make a difference and that difference can be made beyond their hometown. If I make it to old age with a reputation of being true to that goal, I’ll die a happy woman.