Nearly 10 years ago I started working at Hackley School. As is customary when at a new place, it took a while before I settled in and found my place, my “peeps”. For me, it was all about the Breakfast Club, a group of some of the smartest people I have ever met, let alone worked with. The Club was from virtually every department in the school, and our conversations ranged from the latest episodes of House and Downton Abbey to politics to religion to students (current and former) and on to academic topics, jokes: you name it, we talked about it (and yes, I’m sure we offended some – there were no sacred cows in the Club). People were a little in awe of us, but one student reported that he always got a chuckle out of the collective brain power at the table discussing something as mundane as the weather, and that the two women were the biggest sports fans.
One of the Club was a math teacher named Stephen Frauenthal. He had retired from the Chappaqua public schools and come to Hackley, bringing with him an amazing skill for drawing geometric figures on the board and an enthusiasm for teaching (and math) and his students that was contagious. He’d seen many educational fads come, and many educational fads go, and was less and less impressed with newer iterations of older fads. He bemoaned the loss of his blackboard, because chalk came in far more colors than dry erase markers. He refused a SMART board not because it was New Technology but because he’d tried it, and knew that it couldn’t do what he needed it to, thus not benefitting his students. It was always about the students for Frau. He’d give extra help, but not become a crutch. He’d use technology when it enhanced, but not when it detracted.
Far too many teachers (and administrators) fail to think of that when they’re forging ahead with the Next! New! Thing! and rush to adopt without really considering the impact on pedagogy, whether it is in fact better than what is being used now, and whether the teachers can embrace and integrate it into the curriculum. Doug Johnson writes about the $3400 Piece of Chalk, and I’m sure Frau would have agreed.
But he was more than “just” a math teacher. He’d worked for, and led, a summer camp in the Adirondacks for decades and was just as inspiring to his campers as he was to his students.
As I left Hackley, it became clear that Frau was ill. Soon, he retired (again) and Hackley declared a Stephen Frauenthal Day. This week he went into hospice, then yesterday he died. The outpouring of emotion on Facebook has been inspiring, with students and campers from years ago remembering the man who shaped their lives.
What if we had more Fraus in our schools? What if instead of rushing towards something bright and shiny we looked at what we do exceptionally well and evaluate the new thing against that? What if we took the time to get to know our students and figure out what was best for them, what would inspire them, and what would stick with them years later? A school full of Fraus would be an amazing place to teach and learn.