With the summer of 2022 drawing to its close, families with children in the home are turning their attention once again back to the rhythm of school.
Whether public, private or homeschool, it would be difficult to overstate the importance of teachers in our lives. Many have a favorite one – and some of us have several.
Dating back to 1797, Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Mass., remains one of the oldest preparatory schools in the nation. Over the course of the last century, its alumni include dozens of members of Congress, titans of industry, writers, actors and Olympians.
But for one man in the early 1900s, though – and if that one man had not seen one verse from the prophet Jeremiah on a particularly difficult day seven years into his tenure – the school may never have survived.
Every story has a beginning, and this one starts on a warm summer day just over 120 years ago.
By the time Frank Boyden stepped off the train of the Deerfield rail station on August 12, 1902, his new school was on its last legs. With just fifteen students enrolled, the 22-year-old newly minted graduate from nearby Amhurst College didn’t expect too much – and he didn’t plan on staying too long. In fact, he had simply accepted the role in order to bridge the financial gap between his undergraduate studies and law school.
“It’s a toss-up whether the academy needs a new headmaster or an undertaker,” one of the trustees told him his first day.
Diminutive in stature, Boyden was accustomed to low expectations. A few years into his new role, he was picking up scraps of paper while walking along a sidewalk near the school when a woman nearly collided with him.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Boyden,” she said. “I didn’t notice you.”
“That’s all right,” he replied. “No one ever does.”
Yet by the time the old headmaster died at the age of 92 back on April 25, 1972, after serving in his role for over 64 years, it was said Boyden knew as much about boys between the ages of 14 and 18 as anybody alive.
So, what made Frank Boyden special – and how and why did he last so long?
First, Frank Boyden would say his wife of 65 years had a lot to do with it. Frank and Helen Sears Child were inseparable. In fact, Helen taught at Deerfield for over 61 years. They were a team – and a winning one, at that.
Second, Frank knew the secret to keeping boys out of trouble was to make sure you kept them from getting bored.
“There’s nothing in the world like good, hard work,” he used to say. Students – many from privileged families – were all given jobs to do, whether raking leaves, cutting grass or clearing and washing dishes. “He believed in wearing the boys out,” wrote his biographer John McPhee.
Third, Frank Boyden knew boys needed to be watched – and often wanted to talk, too. Instead of sitting in an office with a door, the headmaster set up a card table in the hallway and worked from that one spot throughout the day. He could sense trouble in a child’s face and would come up with an excuse to sit down with them for a conversation. He believed in rules – but said, “A boy is more important than any rule.”
Finally, Boyden lived and lead by other principles that are practical and applicable for today’s parents:
Never give a boy bad news at night. Never threaten. Never shame publicly; always chastise privately.
But even men as stable and steady as Boyden can hit dry spots, and seven years into his stint at Deerfield, the 29-year-old had grown weary of the slow progress he was making on the school. An attractive and more lucrative job offer came in. What should he do? He was ready to accept it – but wasn’t sure. So he did what he often did when he was trying to make a decision. He opened his Bible.
His eyes first fell on Jeremiah 42:10: “If ye will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you and not pluck you up.”
Frank Boyden decided to stay. Shortly before his death, he found some papers with his handwriting dating back to 1906, summing up his philosophy of education:
The object of the school should be the development of character, to help each pupil to do that for which he is best suited.
“Not bad,” he said. “I was ahead of things, wasn’t I? I didn’t know I could do it.”
But the Lord did – as does He believe in you, whatever endeavor or call He has placed on your life.