by Jodi Berry
Will you trust me? You must give me your trust. This is what all teachers ask of their students and what all institutions ask of their constituents. It is rare that I ask for trust and have students so willing to offer theirs. Judy embraced the methods of learning in my classes by offering her trust. Instead of memorizing endless word lists, she read for fun. Instead of prepping for tests, she connected texts and topics. Instead of taking weekend classes, she met with her teachers. Judy challenges the boundaries between school and life, and the term “life-long learner” is too much a cliché to describe her, because she lives her life by learning, by following her curiosities with a genuine passion and openness. And in this way, Judy makes the world her own. I watched her develop her own methods of learning. I saw her make class content her own by grappling with texts and internalizing ideas. From her personal work, she extends valuable insights to her peers and enriches the class as a whole. This is the trust that is missing in most educational contexts.
With Judy in my English classes, discussions aren’t competitions but deep explorations of the voices we read. Sartre, Woolf, Sontag, and Fitzgerald would have been moved by how personal their words impacted the students, impacted Judy. She boldly leads with her trust, turning the class atmosphere from a safe space to a brave space. And I too feel brave in this space. Class isn’t class; it’s a collective. I learned that I could approach teaching the way I’ve always dreamed—not as the beholder of knowledge but an explorer alongside students. This was a meaningful shift for me. I never knew how much I would value disarming my teacher façade, because let’s be honest, teachers only sometimes have the answers. And the best part of seminar is that I don’t have to. Through these experiences, I learned the reciprocity of trust begins with these moments of vulnerability.
What I ask of students is more than completing work, turning in assignments, and playing the game of school. What I’m really asking is do you trust me? And this, I cannot teach. I can model it, I can nurture it, but it’s never a guarantee. Empathy is Judy’s superpower. Her empathy enables her to approach relationships with reciprocity, understanding she may have to bravely expose her own vulnerabilities to gain trust. It’s her empathy that allows her to see the individuals who make up the whole school community. And with her empathy, she doesn’t just tolerate and accept but rather welcomes all people. It’s because of her trust and her empathy that I don’t feel like I’m talking with a student, but a friend, a friend I respect and admire, a friend who inspires me to continue growing. Judy is part of why school feels like home to me.
Our hope for this blog series is to share the stories that don’t make the cut for formal letters of recommendation and to arrive at the core of what makes a Dalton student extraordinary. Would like to know more about our Beyond Letters series? Click the following link to read more about it ! https://www.pkudalton.com/post/beyond-letters