Where I belong
By Peggy Dettlinger
Head of Lower School
Almost exactly 31 years ago I moved to Grosse Pointe not knowing anyone outside of my in-laws, and without a job, was becoming a bit restless. My husband told me to reach out to Muriel Brock, who he had worked for during his days as a Liggett Day Camp counselor, to ask about subbing positions. Coincidentally Mary Thorn, Head of the Lower School, was looking for a second grade teacher to step in for a maternity leave. Pregnant with my first child and having experience in second grade the timing and opportunity was ideal. Truth be told, I was not planning to be a working mom but from the first day I stepped into Liggett until this very day I have loved everything about this school.
As a Liggett prekindergarten, first and second grade teacher for 20 years I worked with some great teachers. I strived to always see the best in my students. I knew that every child had something to contribute and every child could reach his/her own goals and giving up was never an option for me. I am so grateful for every student I have taught as each has taught me something in return.
But if you’d asked me 10 years ago if I’d ever be the Head of Lower School, I would have laughed. In hindsight, it is perhaps a journey that was meant to be. After teaching here for many years, I had a series of students with significant learning challenges, and I was struggling to meet their needs. I decided to take some classes to learn more about learning differences and ended up earning my master’s in special education with an emphasis on learning disabilities. At the same time, Liggett was forming its student support department, and Dr. Healey asked me to consider working student support half the day, and working as the assistant head of lower school the other half of the day..
During this time, I worked closely under then-Head of Lower School Sheila Chaps, and unbeknownst to me I was probably being groomed for the role I’m in today. When she retired, I was offered the Head position, but it took a lot for me to step outside of the classroom and do something where I was really putting myself out there. The hardest thing for me was that I feared I wouldn’t get to work with children, but I took a leap of faith and trusted myself – and others – and said yes. The ultimate joy is now I get to work with everyone from Prek up to the 5th grade. I choose to visit the classrooms, be outside and still engage with the kids, and get to engage in the decision making that drives the school.
Obviously, this has been a year of tremendous change and, let’s be honest, angst. But we’re all in this together, and when it’s all over, we’ll all have grown in some capacity. It’s challenging, having hard conversations and making hard decisions, but I’m in the right place.
You hear about the Liggett family and it is the backbone of this institution. I have been fortunate to have worked under amazing people. Muriel Brock, Mary Thorn, Joe Healey, Beth Beckmann and Sheila are just a handful of people who have contributed to the person I have become. Each saw something in me that I didn’t and each pushed me to grow in a direction I may not have if not given the opportunity. For that I will always be grateful.
I have colleagues from years past that I still reach out to and that communication always makes me smile. I now have former students who have found their way back to Liggett as teachers and parents and nothing makes me prouder. My husband has returned to the place where his teaching career began, my own children have close friends from Liggett who they met in PreK, and each continues to support the school in various ways.
My journey is just one among many who have been lucky enough to walk these halls. The families I have met, the children I have taught, and the people I have worked with have truly shaped my life and I can only hope that I have in some way returned a little bit of that to them.
Peggy Dettlinger is University Liggett School’s Head of Lower School. This is her 30th year of caring for students at the school, having served as both Assistant Head of Lower School and as a teacher in that time.