Follow Your Passions!

Send by email

By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School

From the Winter 2010 Caller

Five o’clock on a South Carolina summer morning. My rounds started early, for a young girl. First I took care of my horse, Cricket—feeding, mucking, a ride on the beach, then out to pasture. Then I attended to my 35 rabbits, gathered eggs from the six red hens that scratched around the house, and released the ducks to the creek. Finally I wrangled Thistle the collie and Ginger the lamb for walks on their leashes.

Animals were my first great passion—and my parents allowed me to have them if I cared for them well and showed responsibility. I was filled with the same passion when I first played school in my room, lining up all of my stuffed animals and dolls, assigning arbitrary grades from A to F and relegating some to smart status, some not so smart. At school I watched with rapt attention how my teachers would teach us. At home I would either try to do it the same way or try to modify the techniques that didn’t work for my little class.

It was not until I became a teacher myself that I understood that, as someone with a passion for teaching, I could go beyond what’s expected and work with students to realize their own personal goals and passions. I finally saw that the very best model for teaching and learning centers on the relationship between the student and the teacher. What happens collectively as a class is important, but the one-on-one time a student and teacher have together is the most critical element.

It was a breakthrough for me when I realized that and learned—thanks to Roland Barthes, John Dewey, and others—that children are not receptacles for knowledge from adults, but teeming petri dishes of their own ideas and imaginations. How little my teachers in the fifties and sixties understood that—although teachers in Ruth Catlin and Priscilla Gabel’s schools certainly did get it.

Catlin Gabel is a school where teachers are drawn to teach, and we select them to do so, because they understand how children’s minds work, and they want to be surrounded by colleagues who feel the same.

This Caller is filled with stories of alumni and students who have pursued interests, passions, and yes, even obsessions. Graduates who fall into this category are legion, and the students and alumni represented here are just a small sample. Why would a school of this size produce so many people who lead with their passions and know themselves well enough to do that?

For one, Catlin Gabel provides an unfettered, free-ranging approach to solving problems, approaching assignments, and celebrating process over product. I learned to be a good rider because I studied my horse, paying heed to her temperament and the look in her eye, and treating her in a way that reflects that knowledge. In the same way, the students profiled here, whether involved in a sport, an academic pursuit, or an art, learn the value of deep concentration and focused attention. For example, visual artists, like the ones you’ll read about, see relationships among all disciplines, in color and in shapes, and takes those elements to create an original. But mostly, we at Catlin Gabel encourage students fully and unabashedly to follow their passions. And of course, there is the child herself, who has the gift inside. Parents, teachers, and the overarching ethos of the school only undergird those passions.

Alumnus, alumna, or current student, their uniqueness binds us all together and makes for a very, very interesting place to teach. Enjoy these stories.