All of us remember the teachers from high school who impacted our lives, providing guidance during critical times and inspiring us to reach further to achieve our goals than we thought possible, and the majority of Americans agree. An impressive 98% of respondents surveyed in one study believe that a good teacher can change the course of a student's life. Teachers, in short, play a pivotal role in our children’s lives, which is why Gerard and Margery Thomas established the Hardwick Fellowship in 2007.
Lifelong believers in education, Gerry and Marge Thomas were raised in families that understood the value of scholarship. Gerry was the only child of two school teachers from upstate New York and, after earning scholarships to Phillips Andover Academy and Harvard, he later served as the president of the school board in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There, the Thomases shepherded the implementation of Reading Recovery, a literacy program for children needing specialized help learning to read, throughout the Kalamazoo public school system.
In 2007, the Thomases established the Hardwick Fellowship at Blair, an award given annually at the Opening of School dinner to one faculty member new to teaching. Today, the Thomases’ daughter Monie Hardwick and her husband, Chan, continue to carry forward the family’s commitment, adding to and supporting new teachers through the fellowship. Mrs. Hardwick, who developed Blair’s teacher training program during her tenure at the School, feels strongly about the contributions that new teachers make to the community. “Young people with a passion for education and a genuine interest in students are so important to boarding schools,” she notes. “Schools need talented young teachers, who bring an energy and enthusiasm vital to boarding school life.”
As recipients of teaching fellowships themselves, the Hardwicks understand how valuable awards can be as a tool to attract and retain new educators. “It was a turning point at the beginning of our careers,” Mrs. Hardwick recalls. “Chan and I both started our teaching careers at the Taft School—Chan with the Carpenter fellowship and I with the Maillard fellowship. We each made $5,000 our first year, but we appreciated those awards and loved the opportunity to teach at a great school.”
The recipient of this year’s Hardwick Fellowship, English and history teacher Amira Shokr, could not agree more. Inspired by her college professors who embraced different learning styles, she remembers that the teachers who stood out to her fostered a welcoming classroom culture and made every student feel heard. “It’s an honor to be a part of this fellowship,” Ms. Shokr noted. “It gives me the opportunity to work at a school that believes in that kind of inclusive community and that embraces teachers at the beginning of their pedagogical journey. I really appreciate that.”
Today, the Hardwicks hope that their dedication to supporting educators through philanthropy will inspire others to do the same. “The fellowship is a way to honor and recognize excellent potential teaching talent,” says Chan, whose nearly quarter century of leadership as Blair’s Head of School was marked by the growth and creation of a faculty culture that did much to attract and retain exceptional boarding school educators. “We hope others will continue to support teaching fellowships.” Monie adds, “It’s an amazing opportunity to help people pursue teaching and education.”