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July 2013

Home / Archive / Campus News - October 2008

George Wythe Welcomes New Mentor

We asked new faculty member, Barbara Tanner, to introduce herself.

With each retelling, my story gets less and less interesting to me.  So I decided to pull out the statement of purpose that I wrote for Harvard back in December of 2006, in the hope of feeling again what I felt then.  It worked.  I recalled the great sense of anticipation and excitement that accompanied my efforts to prepare my application for the School Leadership Program at Harvard Graduate School of Education.  I applied to other schools as well, but I spent the most time on that application.  I hope you will allow me to share a portion of the essay with you, as it captures my feelings about education and being an educator.

“It’s not officially Christmas until I’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life and made my famous caramels.  I dove into caramel production this year with my usual gusto, despite a most regrettable incident last year.  I had warned my dad not to taste test the batch of caramels that I had set aside, retired in disgrace.  The batch was ruined, but it looked deceptively delicious.  When Dad came to me with a gold dental crown in his hand, all we could do was laugh.  He had been warned.  But telling my dad not to eat a homemade caramel, even a petrified one, was like telling a guppy to swim past the fish flakes. 

“My whole family is dubious about eating my caramels now.  But I’ve still got It’s a Wonderful Life.  Now there’s a delightful—and harmless—piece of Christmas candy!  I love George Bailey.  He makes me remember what a gift life is, and my gratitude soars.  For some, it’s all sentimental slop.  But it reaches me, and I’m inspired.  George Bailey wanted to change the world.  He wanted to do “something big and something important.”  What George didn’t recognize was that he had spent his life doing big and important things, right there in Bedford Falls.  He believed in people, loved them, served them, and inspired them to reach a little higher and to be a little better.  His friendships traversed every social and cultural demographic.  He was inclusive and kind, smart and capable.  George Bailey would have made a great educator. 

“Like George Bailey, I want to do something big and important.  And like George, I’ve been incredibly busy in my little corner of the globe changing the world one person at a time.  It’s been a wonderful life so far, and I am profoundly grateful to have found my way into the field of education….”

I went on to explain that I had spent the last twelve years teaching at a nontraditional public school in Irvine Unified School District, Irvine, California.  Irvine Home School is a hybrid of on- and off-campus instruction.  Once a week, the students attend classes on-campus to participate in what would be considered traditional classroom instruction.  The grade levels are grouped (K-1, 2-3, 4-6, 7-8), and the various grade-level groupings each have their own day on campus.  The students also come on campus for a variety of special activities.  When the students are off-campus, the teachers are available by phone or email as a resource to them and their parents.  The teachers also use their time outside the classroom to coordinate and supervise the aforementioned special activities, such as the Science Olympiad, as well as field trips and multi-day field experiences.  The purpose of the school is to support parents in providing their children with a rich education and to put abundant resources, including experienced teachers, at their disposal in order to accomplish that. 

Later in the essay, I talked about my interest in educational entrepreneurship and non-traditional school models.  Then I mentioned my fascination with George Wythe College. 

“It was my great privilege to attend a weekend retreat in May 1995, at the invitation of Dr. Oliver DeMille, founder and president of George Wythe College.  He invited a group of trusted friends and colleagues to spend an intensive weekend framing a mission statement for the college that he now presides over.  It was incredibly stimulating to collaborate with such a visionary group.  I knew these people were going to change the world—little by little, and student by student.  The school is a private liberal arts college committed to the study of great books, great people, and great ideas.

“George Wythe College represents educational entrepreneurship at its best.  Over the years, I have watched with particular interest as the school has grown.  Our paths haven’t converged yet, but they may….”

And so they have!  I feel confident that I made a good choice in deciding to come to George Wythe College.  I had been admitted to a program at Columbia University that was scheduled to begin on June 21, shortly after I graduated from Harvard.  But I was ambivalent about that plan.  The program at Columbia no longer seemed like the right next step for me, but I recognized that I would be turning down an opportunity to study at a prestigious education school that was ranked, in fact, above Harvard.  Nonetheless, on June 17 I advised the program director at Columbia that I was going to withdraw from the program.  On June 23, I received an email from Dr. Groft inviting me to apply for a mentor position at George Wythe College.  Things have worked out for me, just as they did for George Bailey.  Cedar City is probably the closest thing to Bedford Falls that I will ever know.  And it’s good to be here. 

Ms.Tanner received her Ed.M. degree in School Leadership from Harvard Graduate School of Education in June, 2008. Her undergraduate studies were completed at Brigham Young University where she received a B.A. in Humanities. She also holds a multi-subject credential from the University of California, Irvine.