Randolph Taught Me HOW to Think, Not WHAT to Think
Written by Dr. Caroline Beitel Taylor '07 and shared with Randolph School faculty prior to the start of the 2022-23 school year.
Good Morning! Thank you so much for having me. When I was asked to speak, it was an easy, “yes,” but as I thought more about what I might say, I realized how BIG this is. How do I share (in 10 minutes!) all of the amazing components of my time at Randolph AND provide each of you with a small nugget of inspiration and encouragement to begin your school year?
"Our teachers and mentors shaped and molded every experience into one that was unforgettable."
We went through some big transitions while I was at Randolph. Y’all – 1995 (my first-grade year) was almost THIRTY years ago! As a first grader, I was a part of the groundbreaking ceremony for the new high school building on Drake. We moved to our new classrooms while I was in the second grade, and in middle school, we began playing sports on the “new” Garth campus. In 2010, my younger brother, Connor, was part of the first class to graduate from the campus we are on today.
At the beginning of my senior year at Randolph, I was already exhausted by all of the questions about college: “What colleges are you considering? When are you going to make your decision? What will your major be? Have you found a roommate?”
I knew I would make the best decision on my own time (which ended up being May 1st…the final deadline – but I digress…). It was in this season of life that my mom gave me incredible advice. Advice that I’ve carried with me for the past 15 years.
“Life will continue to be full of questions from others. Instead of letting the questions throw you for a loop, be prepared and have an answer ready before you are asked! Ground yourself in the bigger picture and don’t allow the questioning to cause you to second guess your choices.”
It may start with, “where are you going to college?” and “what are you majoring in?”
- Are you dating anyone?
- When are you getting married?
- Do you want kids?
- Why aren’t you pregnant yet?
- Are you going to breastfeed or bottle feed?
- What are you doing for childcare?
- …..you get the picture
Nobody can answer these questions for us, but where do we gain the tools and learn the processes for making these decisions, for answering these questions?
Of course, these are big-picture social questions as an example. But, on a daily basis, we are each approached with question after question (especially as a teacher!) and decision after decision.
I have fixed and lasting memories of every single year, every single teacher, every single friendship, and every single experience I had from 1995-2007. And while there are too many stories and experiences to share, I hope to show each of you the incredible impact you can make on your students of all ages, and how I was provided the resources to answer life’s questions and become who I am today.
Randolph taught me HOW to think, not WHAT to think.
Today, I’m going to share three questions I’ve been asked and how my experience at Randolph has shaped my response.
- How have you built your community?
- How did you learn to be a leader?
- How did you get here? Do you love what you do?
The first question I want to answer for you is about community – How have you built your community?
The most special thing about Randolph to me is the community. Not many people can say they are still close friends with over 30 people they’ve known since before middle school or that they still communicate with so many teachers they’ve known for decades.
The more you experience with someone, the closer you are. And when you’ve been friends with for almost 30 years, you’ve experienced a lot. We’re friends, our siblings are friends, and our parents are friends.
These friends supported me when I won the Panoply billboard competition in the second grade. We experienced a bus breakdown in almost two feet of snow on the first-ever Williamsburg trip. We learned how to cook, sew, change a tire, and swing dance during the 7th grade Interim week. They rushed me to Nurse Deb after a pantomime incident in drama class, ultimately requiring 16 stitches. We traveled to Chicago, the Grand Canyon, Paris, and more. We had countless sleepovers and study parties. We spent hours and hours at sports practices and cheering each other on at our games. We’ve experienced the highs of graduations, career milestones, and starting families as well as some of the lowest lows you can imagine. We are all in constant communication, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Every single one of these memories was made possible by Randolph. Our teachers and mentors shaped and molded every experience into one that was unforgettable. They provided us with continual encouragement, set high standards, and led by example. We felt heard and we felt appreciated. I have a diverse group of successful friends, and we weren’t even one of the “smart” classes to go through Randolph. Almost every one of my friends from growing up went on to further their education beyond college and have continued to lead exceptional careers. As an adult, I’ve continued to build a community through my church, my career, and my family, but there’s something extra special about those “Randolph Friends”.
"There were high expectations placed on us, but none were unreachable. We had our teachers' constant support and encouragement."
As I mentioned, our teachers were excellent leaders. The second question I want to answer is, “How did you learn to be a leader?”
I’ll have to attribute a little bit of this to my being a VERY typical, type-A, first child. But, my first true leadership experience was as the stage manager of our Fourth Grade Opera. Every year, the entire fourth-grade music curriculum involved writing, producing, publicizing, and performing an “opera.” If you remember, in 1998-99, there was a resurgence of 70’s fashion – tie dye, bell bottoms, and words like “rad” and “dude” were super cool as a 9-year-old. We decided the name of our opera company would be “The Funky Fourth Grade Opera Company” and our opera was titled “Give Aliens a Chance.” Every student in the fourth grade filled out a job application for his or her desired position (writer, electrician, public relations, costume design… and so on). After the application process, interviews were conducted, and we each received our positions. Although I wasn’t given my first-choice position (Production Manager – the boss of all bosses), I was thrilled to be named the Stage Manager. This position was equally tough and rewarding – I was in charge of organizing all of the props and actors, making sure everyone was appropriately positioned and that their purple and blue face paint wasn’t smeared. By the end of the year, I learned so much about communication - with both my fellow classmates and my teachers. I loved the responsibility and the respect that came with being an effective leader. Each of us learned so much that year - no matter our position in the “opera”. It is still our most talked about memory and most watched home video as a class.
Beyond the leadership skills that I learned in that year, let’s take a second to think about that title… imagined by fourth graders, “Give Aliens a Chance”. In our opera, an alien landed on planet earth in the middle of a fourth grade classroom at Randolph School. The play was all about love and acceptance for those who are different from us. I believe that this was one of the most pivotal years for all of us. We each gained a new sense of responsibility, had a blast, and shared a message with others that had been taught to us on a daily basis by our teachers – a message of love and acceptance for all. The entire experience of the fourth-grade opera was one of the most memorable of my entire time at Randolph.
Other unique leadership experiences came through my seventh grade elective as a teacher’s aid, the middle school cheerleading captain, the high school soccer captain, and as a Chicago intern as a senior. I was able to pursue and excel in leadership opportunities outside of Randolph because of my already firm foundation. I held leadership roles in college and went on to become the SGA president of our Dental School.
There were high expectations placed on us, but none were unreachable. We had our teachers' constant support and encouragement. I learned to lead by example. I now have the opportunity to lead an entire dental team. I love watching the individual growth of my team members and helping implement systems to provide the best care for our patients as they grow up. The example set at Randolph has helped me to model the type of leader I am today.
"Through my career as a pediatric dentist, I have gained increased respect for each and every teacher."
The final question I want to answer relates to guidance and fulfillment – How did you get here and do you love what you do?
I absolutely LOVE being a pediatric dentist. I feel that in my career, I am able to combine so many of my loves. How I got here was a little roundabout. First grade was a big year for me – I met two of my most inspirational teachers to whom I give much credit for my path. These teachers are Vally Perry and Mary Jones. We used to have a class called ICA (International and Cultural Awareness) taught by Mrs. Perry. Each quarter, we focused on a different country. We learned about everything – language, food, indigenous peoples, history, and landmarks. It was my favorite time of the week! On one particular day in ICA, I remember not feeling my best. Long story short, I tossed my cookies all over my classmate Stefan Neely. And while it wasn’t Stefan’s best day, all of our other classmates were thrilled to get an extra recess. I was devastated. Not because I had just experienced one of the most embarrassing moments I could imagine, but I had to miss one of my favorite classes with one of my favorite teachers! Perry was one of the elementary teachers I remember most. I went on to have Mrs. Perry as my Spanish teacher for the rest of elementary school. She sparked my love of languages and other cultures. I still sing the songs she taught me to my little girl! I continued my love for Spanish with other incredible teachers – Oscar Comulada, Marina Prucha, and Peggy Bilbro. All of whom I still see around town today!
My next inspiration, Mary Jones, is a gift to Randolph. She taught us about all of the “greats” from a young age. We learned about the unique styles of Georgia O’Keefe, Pete Mondrian, Vincent VanGogh, Jackson Pollack, and so many more. I have walked through art museums all over the world and am able to instantly recognize artwork both well-known and obscure. Her classroom was a tiny art student’s dream – each chair was painted (by the Class of 2005) to represent a famous work of art. And our tables were named for the key elements of art: “line, shape, color, value, texture, space, and form”. Little did I know, but these elements of art would someday be used in my daily life as a dentist.
In college, I had a feeling I would ultimately want to pursue dentistry, so I planned ahead and took all necessary prerequisites, but I felt that if I was following one love for the rest of my life, I should follow another while I had the freedom and flexibility. My decision was between becoming an art major and a Spanish major. In my Junior year, I was given the opportunity to study abroad in Spain – We focused on the language, culture, and art history of the country, and I was in love. I chose to major in Spanish and went on to apply to dental school where I wrote an admissions essay titled “Art and Dentistry.” Once I was in dental school, the pediatric component was a given. I LOVE kids – babysitting, camp counselor, acting like a kid. I love it all. As I said, I love what I do!
Through my career as a Pediatric Dentist, I have gained increased respect for each and every teacher. There are many similarities in our jobs: We have the opportunity to make an impact on children with each new encounter, we lead by example daily, and we all understand that sometimes the parent is more difficult to manage than the student (or patient). We encounter challenging behavior scenarios and manage them carefully. And, lastly, we share the unique experience of watching a child grow from a young age through early adulthood.
We are all so lucky to have these experiences. I’m also grateful that each of my experiences is one on one and less than 30 minutes long – you all are the true heroes.
"From the big moments to the small moments, you are providing them the tools to answer all of life’s questions."
Before I wrap up, I want to give a few shout-outs and thank yous to the “hall of famers” who taught both myself and my younger brother and have given amazing years to the Randolph community –
- Mrs. Hoppe: I still use the “50 states that rhyme” song as a “party trick” to recite all 50 states in alphabetical order. Thank you for teaching me the foundations of music and allowing me to be in the Young Voices Choir when I was much more confident in my young voice than I maybe should have bee
- Mrs. Below: Although I chose to pursue Spanish with my beloved Mrs. Perry, you have always been so kind to remember me and to always be a light passing by in the hallway! Each of my “French Friends” adored you.
- Mr. Green: Mr. Green, you were always the “cool teacher” everyone looked up to. You have an amazing enthusiasm for English and always found fun & updated ways to make us excited about learning.
- Mrs. VanBebber: I may not have realized it at the time, but I LOVE PHYSICS! It was one of my favorite classes in college, and I am convinced that my understanding of the foundations of physics came from each of our creative experiments in your classroom.
- Mrs. Reyes: I was lucky enough to have you as my teacher a few different times at Randolph, but my most memorable course was definitely AP Art. You were always encouraging and helped me to home my technique in both painting and drawing. The combination between abstract and realism in your own art, as well as your use of mixed media, inspired me and became my preferred style in my work. I also cherish the special memory of exploring Rome with you as a college student during Connor’s interim trip.
- Nurse Deb: No words can describe the impact you’ve had on all of us. You were more than a nurse, you were a counselor and a friend. I still see Nurse Deb at many Randolph weddings, birthday parties, and baby showers – she is SO loved!
- Mrs. McMichens: I felt so fortunate to have you as my 9th-grade biology teacher. It was our first course in dissection and I just loved everything about you! You are intelligent, kind, funny, and the only person I know who could get a room full of 9th graders excited about worms and frogs.
- Mrs. Santos: When I reflect on my love for math at Randolph, I directly relate it to my time with Mrs. Santos. You were my advisor for as many years as they would let me have her in high school. You put up with our silly antics and taught math from multiple approaches so that each student could understand. I looked forward to your class every day freshman and sophomore years and spend a considerable amount of time in her classroom even when I was not a part of one of her classes.
- Mrs. Holt: Initially, I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t allowed to have Mrs. Santos for the third year in a row, but WOW – Mrs. Holt, you are one of a kind. You had us laughing daily and successfully led me through what I felt was my most mind-boggling math class yet.
- Mrs. Rossuck: I learned from you that I could actually love an English class. During our senior year, you created an entire course based on food in literature. Every work we read was centered around a love of food and what that food meant to a community. I even got to write an essay on my grandmother’s special pound cake recipe! It was the first English class where I willingly and excitedly read every assignment (sorry, Mr. Green).
- Mrs. Jones: I have to save Mrs. Jones for last. Words cannot adequately describe the lasting impression my elementary art classes will forever have on me. Thank you for all that you taught me!
If only I had the time to list one lasting memory from every teacher during my time at Randolph – and I could do it. This is a snapshot of the amazing impact y’all are making on each of your student's lives every year, every day. From the big moments to the small moments, you are providing them the tools to answer all of life’s questions. You are preparing them to have a lifelong love of learning. You are teaching them HOW to think, and not WHAT to think.
Thank you all for being a part of my community. I wish you the best start to your 2022-2023 school year!