If we are to succeed this academic year, it will take teamwork, which requires humility and wisdom.
I will begin teaching 138 (for now) students tomorrow at 7:45am. Sitting in my empty classroom, behind a camera, I’ll look out to students on screens in their homes. This tenuous connection will be held together (hopefully) via Zoom. We will do this for approximately five weeks and then begin hybrid integration back into the physical learning space, for some. A portion of my students will remain distance learners all year.
This will be year 23 for me, and it feels like starting over. I remember when I was the youngster on my team at James Madison Middle in Tulsa, OK, with Ms. Wright, Ms. Washington, Ms. Wilkins and Dr. Colbert. They mothered and protected and taught me how to teach, and I am forever grateful. Their wisdom and example has proved invaluable.
Now I’m getting to be one of the old-timers, but I feel more like a newbie than ever.
I’m most proficient in two areas within my field. First, I strive to create an environment of order and intellectual challenge for my students, and they always know I care. Second, I’ve deeply studied history, and know how to connect it to their lives.
I have weaknesses too.
This year, one of those, my lack of technological savvy, is going to be right up front. This will be the thing my students get to see every day, and this is one of the reasons I need humility. When leading, we often feel the need to play the role of all-knowing expert.
We wonder if our charges - students, athletes, employees or parishioners - will begin to doubt us, and wander away from our group goals, so we contemplate trying to hold onto a facade of perfect proficiency.
It’s a compelling temptation, but I think it will cause us to fail.
So, I’ve decided to do what I’ve tried to do down through the years. When I don’t know something, I admit it, and ask somebody who does. In many cases, this year, those experts will be my students, who’ve grown up connected to tech.
They have something to teach us, too, and not just about tech.
One of the greatest blessings of the teaching profession is how much we are able to learn from our brilliant little idealists and cynics.
After we went virtual last semester, I had one lovely young student who would occasionally send emails gently explaining how my method of delivery in google classroom had extra steps that were confusing and unnecessary. When you get that message, there is a part of your nature that resists, wants to assert authority.
I beg my fellow teachers, and also parents, to pause and listen. For me, this year, I’ll start out inviting counsel from all my little tech whizzes. I’ll remind them that while I bring skills they need, their role is also vital , for me and for their peers.
We need one another.
This academic year will be memorable, and it will be difficult. I’m hopeful it will also give us a unique opportunity for meaningful connection, service, growth and wisdom.
There is a proverb that says “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Saint James, the brother of Christ, reiterates this, asking “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
It’s circular. Wisdom and humility reinforce one another.
Pride and foolishness do too.
We’re in a troubling time, not only because of COVID, but also because so many of us get dragged into political shouting matches filled with vanity, scorn and bitterness. It is wearying, and it wounds. Sometimes, there are new wounds opened up on top of old ones.
We need the peace that passes understanding right now.
I pray a blessing on all educators and students and parents of students (also now educators) beginning this extraordinary year. Let us love, grant mercy, and listen with patience. Ultimately, grant that we may learn humility and wisdom from one another, finding peace for our souls.