If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
-1 Corinthians 13: 1
Without love where you be now?
-‘Long Train Running’, the Doobie Brothers
For my first piece here at The Silversmith Collective I was trying really hard to think of something witty, eloquent, humorous, maybe even mind blowing, to write about. Then I remembered I’m me and realized that probably wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, as I was coming to this realization, I remembered this is actually the second time this year this has happened to me, and so I can shamelessly borrow from what I wrote before.
For context, I’m a teacher and my school has a ‘Teacher Advisory Program’, aka TAP, which is a fancy way of saying a homeroom, but with a little more purpose. With TAP we have the same group of kids in our homeroom from grade 7 all the way through to grade 12. The idea is that we actively build community with this group of kids, advocate for them throughout their school journey, and then participate in their grad ceremony. By default this meant it was my job to give the toast to the grads this year. Truthfully, I was kind of terrified. I hate platitudes with a passion and I’m not a huge fan of inspirational quotes either. What pithy, charming, inspiring advice could I give these young people after they’d had to sit through classes of me trying my best to drill advanced mathematics and physics into their brains? How could I top ideas like the one that we are literally made of the remnants of dead stars, or that we are the consciousness of the material universe?
In my search for something good to say I was blessed with some guidance during our weekly professional development. I’m blessed enough to work in a school district whose faith theme for the next three years is evangelization, and the week before grad the conversation turned to what the real purpose of our existence was. Namely eternal life.
We were reminded that there are real and important stakes at hand when it comes to sharing God’s love with our students, stakes beyond any on earth. I’m not sure if it was a revelation or a reminder, but I received some serious clarity in that session that my vocation as a teacher was about a lot more than simply teaching the wonders of Math and Science, and kind of being a decent guy to my students. This providential moment lead me to the conclusion that there was no point in giving career advice, reading Dr. Seuss, or trying to be wise in my toast to the grads. Instead, I simply and bluntly told them two truths. The first was that I, and all of my colleagues, loved them. Beyond the grades, beyond the classes, beyond the bands and teams and clubs, we loved them. The second was that if they did everything in their life out of love, with their sights set on eternal life, it didn’t even matter if they reached their dreams or goals because those would pale in comparison to the life they’d live and the eternal reward of living a life of the holy sort of Love (don’t worry, I still told them to strive for their dreams and goals, and that God gave them their passions for a reason).
To put it in the form of advice I’ve received as a teacher, I’m going to paraphrase two of my own leaders and role models in education. First from a presenter in my new teacher orientation. His advice wasn’t practical to the day to day of teaching, but simply the question: “How are you going to show your students you love them each and every day?” Imagine if every educator, Catholic or not, started the day with that reminder. Imagine how much more we’d see of our students’ whole selves. Imagine how much more we’d understand when a student is acting out or misbehaving because they themselves are coming from a place of pain. Imagine how much better we’d coach. Imagine how much more effective the one on one help, the critical feedback, and the sincere praise would be if we constantly held the love for our students at the front of our minds and the top of our hearts. The second bit of wisdom comes from my superintendent, and is this: The love a great teacher has that drives them in their work, is Agape. The love revealed in Jesus, which gives with no expectation of reward or reciprocation. Again, imagine if we let go of our need to be liked or validated by our students, and could simply love them and serve them in whatever way they need most.
So, to echo the challenge laid before me as a new teacher: How are you going to be the channel of God’s love to your students, in whatever context you educate, each and every day?