Please note: When I use the term ‘educator’ in this piece, I am referring not only to teachers but to all staff in schools who contribute to the formation of our young.
We are laying the foundations of a mighty edifice, whose completion shall not be seen in our day; no, nor in centuries upon centuries after us.
But happy are we indeed, if we can contribute even the least towards so higher consternation. The time calls for action! Up then and let us do our part faithfully and well.
Friends, our children’s children will hold our memories dearer for the work which we begin this hour.
– Felix Adler –
Can there be any greater privilege than the vocation of educator? We influence the most important of society’s responsibilities. Through our belief in, and formation of the young, we touch the future. Lee Iacocca, former CEO of one of the world’s largest corporations put it this way:
In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilisation along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honour and highest responsibility anyone could have.
– Lee Iacocca –
I was educated by the Christian Brothers until I finished Year 10. I was not a particularly good student and moved to a state high school to complete Years 11 and 12. My priorities in life were very different and revolved around the local beach culture. I attended school irregularly and had little motivation or interest. At the end of Year 12, I didn’t matriculate to any university or any tertiary program. I thought of myself as a failure and I am sure that many others would have agreed.
I went on unemployment benefits for six months and faced the embarrassment of many of seeing my friends coming and going from university for their breaks and holidays. Meanwhile, I read Wilbur Smith books and surfed!
I eventually got a job in a bank. It wasn’t a bad job but it really wasn’t me.
One Saturday morning, when I was walking down the main street of the town where I lived, a Christian Brother, Br Jim, who had taught me in my junior years, approached me and asked me what I was doing with my life. Then he asked me a further question that changed my whole life’s course.
He said, “Wayne, have you ever thought about becoming a teacher?” I replied, “Me, Brother – a teacher? Don’t you know I didn’t pass my final exams, I failed; I didn’t matriculate to any universities?” He said, “Wayne I know this place in Sydney where we used to train Brothers; we still do, but there aren’t many of them. They’re taking in lay people these days and perhaps if I put in a good word, we might be able to get you a start. I think that you would make a fine teacher”
A few weeks later, after hearing that a transfer was coming in my bank job, I contacted Br Jim and asked if his offer was still on the table. He made a phone call and I was invited down to Strathfield for an interview; accepted into Mount St Mary College on probation and the rest, so they say, is history.
My story is a reminder that we may never fully know the difference that we make in the lives of the young people through our belief in them and their potential. The most profound difference that we make as educators will be determined by our willingness to believe in the young. For some reason that I still don’t understand, Brother Jim believed in me and said so. It made all the difference. The casual encounter where we show interest and concern, may change someone’s life. What a scary but magnificent possibility!
The dream begins most of the time with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau, sometimes even poking you with a sharp stick called truth.
– Dan Rather –
The old adage is true: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!”
Think back to the teachers that you remember most fondly from your time at school. Yes, there were the eccentric ones and the brilliant ones. However, I would hazard to guess that the teacher that you remember with most affection is someone who, in some way, went out of their way to engage with you at a deeply human level. Someone who believed in you, and, through that belief, touched your humanity. Carl Jung put it this way:
An understanding heart is everything in a teacher and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.
– Carl Jung –
…the souls of the young dwell in the house of tomorrow, and they will be the architects and builders of a future for the world.
– Kahlil Gibran –
Archbishop Oscar Romero said that our mission and obligation is to be ‘prophets of a future not our own’. Often distracted by the demands of the present we should remind ourselves that the future, tomorrow, is in fact our canvas. The ultimate exam we face is to live in a future created by our own children. The kind of world they commit themselves to will arise in no small part, from the quality of our example. What we model, what we value, what we question and where we lead the young through own personal commitments in life, will determine the values, the visions and the answers we get in the next generation.
There is no greater legacy that can be left than a life well-lived. Gandhi once famously said that ‘My life is my message’. Should anyone settle for less? Should anyone in education expect that who they are, what they stand for and how they live their lives, would not be the most important message that young people receive?
How can we seriously expect to interest our students in learning and the spiritual life, if we do not model to them adult lives that are searching and spirit-centered?
The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for people to see by. The saint is the person who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a light.
– Felix Adler –
The call to sainthood is a journey that lies beyond all but the best of us. However, all educators are called to be heroes, shining the light of authentic and well-lived lives for emerging generations.
The greatest danger for education is that it becomes solely focused on helping young people fit into an economy.
Someone wise once said that:
Teaching people skills, without giving them a vision for a better future a vision based on common values, is only training.
Education is about much more than training. We must prepare our students for life; not merely skill them to make a living.
This message was beautifully conveyed to me by a young girl in India.
Loreto Day School Sealdah, is a very prestigious and highly esteemed girls’ school in Calcutta. It is one of the most authentic Catholic schools I know, where ironically, there are very few Catholics enrolled. Sr. Cyril Mooney, the dynamic and charismatic past Principal, always referred to her school as a ‘resource center for the poor.’
For generations this prestigious school has been the school of choice for many of the well-heeled people of Calcutta, regardless of their religious affiliation. Under Sr. Cyril, of the school’s enrolment of 1500, half pay high fees and half pay nothing. This latter group are street kids, the poorest of the poor. They all wear school uniforms and all are equal in this remarkable place. But that’s not all!
In this school all the children, whether they are well to do, the future leaders of India, or children of street sweepers, every day are required to teach street kids; kids from the villages and railway stations; kids who have nothing. It is compulsory, regardless of caste or family background.
I remember asking a very eloquent school leader, a high caste young Hindu lady of about 15 years of age, why her dad, who could afford any type of education, chose to send her to Loreto Sealdah. Since, at this school, she had to engage with people of a caste and a family background very different from her own and contrary to the beliefs and customs of her caste.
She replied very eloquently: ‘My father sends me to this school so that I can receive an education, not just attain a qualification!’ An education for that young girl and her family, challenges inherited world views, prioritises service to the disenfranchised and redefines the boundaries of what we refer to as our community.
This shift of the heart is far more than training can achieve!