Those of you who are regular readers know that my father died in early January. Jack Huyler was a force to be reckoned with right until the end of his 94 years. Few with whom he crossed paths were unaffected by him.
Throughout my life I have heard tales from former students (Dad was at The Thacher School in Ojai, CA, for 65 years) who either loved (most) or despised (a vocal few) him.
Nobody didn’t have an opinion about him, and all agreed he taught valuable life and academic lessons.
Dad was a tough taskmaster in the classroom. Sophomore English students learned quickly that a comma blunder earned an automatic reduction of 40 points.
Not surprisingly, graduates of Thacher and Dad’s classes discovered they were more than well prepared for the most rigorous of college curricula.
More often than not, they returned to campus to thank him for holding them accountable. Dad’s high standards were famous; so was his willingness and ability to help any student who asked.
Little was more important to Dad than honesty. As a teacher, then an administrator, I sought guidance from him over the years about how to tread lightly but firmly in discipline situations that could either become a valuable learning experience for a child or turn him off forever.
Dad taught me how to offer a hand to a miscreant, how to provide an avenue to redemption.
For instance, he advised never to ask a student directly whether or not he did something wrong: The inclination to lie is often the automatic response, compounding the problem.
Instead, I learned to ask questions like, “Jackie, you must have been feeling a great deal of pressure when you copied Sam’s paper. What can I do to help?”
Sensing an ally, most youngsters are actually relieved to unburden themselves, and the focus becomes one of assistance, rather than being punitive, even if there are consequences with which to be dealt.
As a Head of School, I know the moment that a student recognizes I am on his/her side and only want to help, we can move forward. Inevitably, the child feels the same. Dad was tough, and he was fair. I try, every day, to emulate him.
We had a big memorial service for Dad in February. The second and final was August 9. As I write this, just prior to that date, I find myself struggling to let go in ways that I never anticipated.
Perhaps it’s a function of the fact that Dad’s ashes, which will be mixed with Mom’s and interred in the family plot in Jackson Hole, have been resting comfortably on our bookshelf in Incline. I’ve gotten kind of used to having him there!
Dad was nothing if not specific about his wishes, however, and I know what he wants.
My parents left me infinite legacies for which I am grateful every day. The biggest is the command to “live while we are yet alive.” It’s a message worth sharing.
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at www.laketahoeschool.org.
“Sensing an ally, most youngsters are actually relieved to unburden themselves, and the focus becomes one of assistance, rather than being punitive, even if there are consequences with which to be dealt.”