Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Most Important Lessons

"What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches."
(Karl Menninger)

It's a Tuesday morning in June.  I sit alone in my empty classroom - just me and my thoughts.  My Seniors are done and gone, eager eagles ready to flap their wings and fly off into their futures - yet also a little anxious at leaving all that has been familiar to them.  I will see them all again on Saturday at graduation, and I will smile proudly at them - shake hands with a few - as they march by.

But as I sit here at my desk, I don't feel so alone.  The rows of desks in front of me seem to be standing at attention, like eager soldiers waiting for instructions on the parade grounds.

So my mind stirs.  What are the last things I would want to tell my students before we parted?  What are the most important lessons that I hoped they learned from me?  I know that it wouldn't be the Economics we covered, the news that we discussed, or any reading, writing, or 'rithmetic that we did.

Because in my heart I know that the most important things a teacher teaches are the intangibles:  the things they model through their actions each day, and express through their attitudes and presence.  These are the true gifts that we are called to pass on to our students.  These are what will be impressed upon them and hopefully be of value to them as they soar off into the unknown.

So what are the "Pearls" I would want to offer to my students?  What would I tell them if I had just one more session with them, and I had to teach what was most important?  These four lessons are what I'd offer them, based on my own experiences, and hope they'd be as valuable to them as they have been for me.

Be Curious

"Who dares to teach must never cease to learn." (John Cotton Dana)
  • Always be willing to learn something new.  Say "I don't know, but I want to learn" - about the world, about yourself - more often than you say "I don't want to know" or "I don't need to know".  Continue to cultivate a sense of wonder and innocence.  Don't stop reading.  Your world will expand or contract based on how curious you remain.  Learning doesn't stop at 18, or at 54, or at 80.  If you're willing to remain a student, life will always reward you with something new to see, and you will grow.
Be Humble

"A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle."
(Benjamin Franklin)
  • All of life's greatest virtues:  Patience, Compassion, Kindness, Generosity, Love - arise out of Humility:  the knowledge that we are meant to be servants of something greater than ourselves during our lives.  Be willing to give more often than you take, and to go unrecognized for doing so.  Say "I'm sorry - I was wrong" more often than you say "I was right!".  When you can see in any disappointment that Life isn't "taking something away" from you, but instead offering you something greater if only you'd surrender, then real treasures can be yours.
Be Courageous

Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway." (John Wayne)

  • In big ways and small ways...at momentous events that are clearly turning points in your life, and in small quiet moments when you think you're all alone, Life will call on you to be courageous.  To do what you don't want to do.  To risk being seen as a failure or to be disliked.  To sail away from the shores of the comfortable and the known into the darkness, not sure that you have what it takes.  Sail away.  Take that step.  Stand tall even when trembling.  It's the only way you'll ever learn that there is inside of you something stronger than you ever would've known, just waiting to be called upon.
Be Honest

"Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure there is one less rascal in the world." (Thomas Carlyle)

  • Being honest - with others, with yourself - will never lead you down the wrong road.  But at times it will seem the most difficult thing to do.  Inside all of us is a nature that always wants to "hide", to "take the easy way", to "pretend".  Be willing to face it.  Be unwilling to follow it.  When you remember that what is True never needs defending, and that what is False can never be defended, then you will know that there is nothing you need to fear.  All of my greatest joys, greatest discoveries, the love of my life, all became possible for me only when I was willing to be unflinchingly honest.  Don't wait.  Start making the honest path the well traveled road in your life.
As I finish writing this, the sun shines through my windows on to the desks.  They seem brighter and lighter - inspired by my final "words of wisdom"?   Perhaps not.  But maybe next year I'll share these words with my real students.  Because I know that they're really not "mine" - all of them were given to me to pass on.  I look forward to a chance to do so.  That would be the most important, and rewarding, class I'd ever teach.

Class dismissed. :-)

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