All Praise the LJCDS Teacher

By Colleen O’Boyle, assistant head of school for Academic Affairs

“When love and skill mingle, expect a masterpiece.” 

—John Ruskin

In 1999, I left a job in New York City and deferred graduate school to take care of my mother who was battling cancer. I transitioned to the role of caretaker, an unskilled nurse, terrible cook and novice head of the household. My younger brother was in college, my elder brother in Europe, and my father numbly led a division at Bell Laboratories. I was at home with my mother, a time in our lives together, albeit challenging, a period of great reflection and transcendence that has informed my perspectives and vocation to date. 

During one of the last conversations I had with my mother, she told me that in order to do great things, you must love what you do. She shared that circumstances do not define a person, but rather they reveal how we rise, stand up and persevere in the face of adversity and uncertainty. She encouraged resisting the temptations of wallowing and misery for extended periods. I recall thinking how selfless a statement from someone who would die so young. She went on to minister that the most important aspect of life is the positive impact one can have on others, despite any consternation, opposition or unrest, especially in the face of complexity and adversity when guidance and stability are most needed. She was my mother, but in that moment and her final chapter, she was a teacher.  

This is how I found my way to education. My thoughts about becoming a writer or publisher were put aside. After she passed, I worked at the American Cancer Society (ACS), a role that, in hindsight, was somewhat a cathartic path to my own healing and thankfully led me to La Jolla Country Day School. 

While at ACS in the early 2000s, I met current LJCDS Assistant Head of School for Community Engagement Susan Nordenger, formerly the Community Service Director, and the army of students who followed in her path of kindness, deep listening and service. Where the lunch pavilion now sits was a boardroom, and one evening after a student meeting, she and I had a conversation about purpose and defining your impact. She gave me permission and the confidence to transition yet again to a new role, that of a teacher. 

The anchor to my teaching and professional career is rooted at La Jolla Country Day School. As a young professional, I was paired with three mentors at the school: the late Glen Pritzker, the beloved Deborah Shaul and former Upper School director Roderick Jemison. Along with Susie, these individuals were more than mentors; they were sponsors who pushed me, advocated for me, and expected me to grow and hone my skills. They did not provide me with answers, yet they challenged me with open-ended questions and urged me never to accept mediocrity. Glen pushed me to enroll in another graduate program to broaden my literary canon. Deborah mentored me to evolve as an academic and gain pedagogical experience in the classroom. Rod sponsored me to hone my leadership skills and quiet any self-doubt about my path ahead. Susie encouraged me to serve and make a difference in this world. In a sense, they expected more of me at the time than I did of myself. I was their student, and they were my teachers. 

The relationship between an LJCDS teacher and student cannot be defined easily, but let me attempt to name what I have experienced working alongside our teachers for a decade. Over the years, I have observed our teachers mentor our students with the same fertile soil that the aforementioned teachers mentored me—tilling the soil with a sense of direction and purpose.

Teachers at La Jolla Country Day School are the reason we have been open and thriving since 1926 and for the past 22 months. With this said, it has not come without deep reflection, adaptation and bouts of ministry. We are a school where teachers have a love for children and learning and a commitment to evolving their pedagogy. They are selfless, tireless and committed. Our teachers motivate one another and their students to grow personally and as teammates. Each year in their classes, they scout individual strengths and areas of growth, so in turn, each child can have a sense of agency and personal investment. At times they are at the center of the arena standing beside the student, and at other times, they position themselves on the sideline to watch each student discover their own prowess. 

Our teachers are curriculum designers and have real-world learning experiences rooted in collaboration and feedback. To best prepare our students for the world they will inherit, teachers embrace the diversity present in humanity and engage in deep, meaningful dialogue. Yes, our teachers focus on what they teach, but more importantly, attention and deliberate focus remain on how they connect with students and build strong, lasting relationships. Some teachers play the role of warm demanders, coaches, facilitators or Socratic guides. All positions require trust, relational anchors and feedback coupled with the humility and love of their student’s development. Founder Louise Balmer’s vision that “School should be life, not a preparation for life” rings true today.Like the mentors and sponsors that I have personally experienced at LJCDS, ask your student(s) and alum(s) to reflect upon who has made an impact on their lives, and I would venture to guess an LJCDS teacher or coach will come to mind. Echoing my mother’s words, these past 22 months do not define who we are as a school but rather reveal all we shall become. All praise our La Jolla Country Day School teachers, whose love for and attention to our students has not gone unnoticed.

Colleen O'Boyle
Colleen O’Boyle

Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs

Colleen A. O’Boyle believes it is not enough to prepare students for high school and college, rather she has a deep responsibility to prepare students for a life of leadership and innovation. This process begins early when we position young minds to become active in their own decision-making with the help and guidance of trusted adults.

Limits are Love
Developing Leadership Skills

Share post:

Leave a Reply