By: Michael Landroche P'02
I love my work with students. And yet, each summer, as July moves into August, I wonder if I can keep doing it. Nope, the word I’m going for is closer to “fear” than to “wonder.”
It’s my students, this generation of teenagers who step into a world so different from the one I inhabit. I fear they will dismiss me as irrelevant, but hope they will not. I mean, it’s understandable. How do they connect with a dinosaur? The work we do together on this hill is no leisurely stroll through Jurassic Park. It is no waterslide into the metaverse or thumb-scroll through the meme-o-verses of TikTok and SnapChat. Why would my students want to build a relationship with the campus “old guy” whose social media accounts are limited to Twitter and LinkedIn?
Deep learning at Tilton School is so much more than giving in to ephemeral distractions. It is work, and everyone who reads this piece knows that building strong, healthy relationships is essential to this work.
As an English teacher, I invite young minds and hearts into the imaginary worlds of writers through the ages, from Aeschylus to Zora Neale Hurston. I try to model for them how to listen carefully to the characters they meet, to wonder “why” these folks act and speak as they do, and ultimately to question, “Whose story is being told, and for what purpose?”
I invite my students to reflect deeply on these stories to make sense of the world they inhabit. And I cajole them to find their own voice as they share what they discover to be true. And through all of this, I encourage them to have fun. This work, such fun for me, has kept my mind alert to the ways I might do it better, especially in August in the run up to doing it all over again, and doing it better.
Two months ago, during an Alumni Weekend event, our Head of School Kate Saunders presented me with a hand-crafted wooden box. Inside the box were notes from students and parents with whom I have worked over the past 40 years. These notes remind me how much I love this work, and how vital it is to love the people who work with me.
One student writes, “I can look back on so many of my teachers and friends at Tilton and realize how special they were, but there was never any question with Mr. Landroche — I knew while I was there. He had a way of turning any experience into a life lesson, and providing encouragement or tough love, depending on what I needed.”
Another student writes, “In every scenario, what I remember most is Mr. Landroche’s sense of humor and care for each one of us. He always set high expectations, yet his approach was balanced with fun.” I trust that these former students have voiced their truths, but in the midst of this busy life on campus from September to May, this long view of what we do together is nearly impossible to bring into focus. Instead, we just do the work together, and in the process, something like love, or perhaps love itself, emerges, not necessarily the love of literature, but the love of working together. Love, I’ve learned, builds trust. And trust creates space for growth.
My students have helped me grow. They have taught me to be better in all facets of my life — as a teacher, coach, father, spouse, and citizen. I should be thanking my students. In fact, I do thank them each time I step into a classroom or onto the gym floor and softball fi eld, and as I stroll through campus on evening duty. In these moments, my fear of irrelevancy fades. And in its place, excitement builds as my new students and I prepare to begin again.
Jack, Class of ’83, was a student in my very first-ever Tilton School class in October of 1982. His note ends with a poem “In Medias Res” composed of lines from the various pieces of literature we read together 40 years ago. Among them was a passage from Sophocles’ Antigone:
Earth, undecaying, unwearied, he wears away with his toil,
Forward and back with his plowshare, year after year, he plods,
With his horses turning the soil.
Thank you to all who have written notes of appreciation. Your trust and love conjure within me the confidence to keep turning the soil in this unwearied bit of Earth we know as Tilton School.