Winter of Our Discontent

Though my role at The YMCA Academy is Head of School, I’m always going to be Dr. Adams, teacher of English. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

So, as that teacher of English, I was reflecting upon the start of the year and one of John Steinbeck’s best if most underrated works, “The Winter of Our Discontent.” There is a passage in the book that never fails to grab me:

“People who are most afraid of their dreams convince themselves they don’t dream at all.”

Inherent in a new school year is the notion of dreaming. Students dream about what they want to become in the future — when they’re fully “grown up” (side note – like many adults, I’m still waiting for that moment to happen). But the idea of dreaming about the future is inextricably linked to the past. Who and what we imagine ourselves as becoming is informed by who and what we have been.

For students who have always experienced success in the classroom, their trajectory of imagining is limitless. The formula in their minds for future success is the past + the present = opportunity. They can see and sense that, because success isn’t foreign to them. But here at The Academy, our students face a different challenge, that of imagining a successful future where their past in school has been an ongoing challenge.

When you spend years in school as the square peg trying to fit into the round hole, it’s easy to give up. You can blame the shape of the hole, but you’ll also look to yourself and why you don’t fit. What we deal with at The Academy are students who, for perhaps the first time, do fit and fit remarkably well. What comes along with that is a re-evaluation of the future. Sometimes, it’s as complicated as showing someone that they should no longer be afraid of their dreams, that what what was once thought of as being unattainable is now a real possibility.

This isn’t a challenge limited to us at The Academy, it’s inherent to the nature of schools. We know that this blog is read in many parts of the world and that students face a range and depth of challenges. But no matter where a student lives and works, part of what a great school can do is to help create a culture where dreams are pursued, not feared.

Don Adams, Head of School


Sep 10th, 2012 – Winter of Our Discontent