Tomorrow is the day!
Please note the exclamation mark at the end of the previous statement. I felt compelled to put it there because I am an educator and I am supposed to be excited about going ‘back to school’. And I am excited and hopeful….but I have to confess that mixed in with that excitement and hope is a little fear and a struggle for peace. I share these feelings here because I know I am not the only one feeling these things and it may comfort some to know that even very experienced teachers continue to have these feelings at the start of a new year or semester. I am expecting some kind of classroom based nightmare tonight and when I meet my students for the first time tomorrow, I will have all of the nervous energy that any ‘performer’ would have. The semester stretches before me and also rises above me like a mountain. I know the hike will be hard and every peak I climb will lead to a new peak.
I think there is a healthy aspect to feelings of fear and a struggle for peace. They can imply that you understand the nature of your work – that you are ‘turning souls’, that what you do is very complex and challenging, that even though you have many years of doing certain things ‘again and again’, every year is new because your students are new, that you understand peace is required to do the work well and truly, and that you understand peace requires a spiritual struggle. To teach is to offer yourself wholeheartedly to others. It is not wrong to think about who it is you are offering, or to wonder if you will have life to offer. It is good to take Christ’s warning about teachers seriously.
There are also very unhealthy aspects to these feelings of fear and a lack of peace. I know this from experience and from the wisdom of wise counsel. These feelings can represent a false sense of pride – that everything that happens between me and my students is up to me. This pride or “queen/king of the classroom syndrome” could be a symptom of my unwillingness to accept my smallness and weakness, which will, in turn, make it impossible for me to seek support from God and others and leave me locked in a mask of falseness pretending all is well. I will then offer a false self to my students. I may also seek security in being very certain or controlling, rather than open to the possible and seeing. There is a significant tension here for all educators because it is hard to be small and weak and yet have SO much responsibility, SO many expectations. However, I have learned that it is even harder to pretend you aren’t small and weak, and to have only yourself to rely on. Admitting that I am small and weak opens me to a dialogue and interrupts the monologue of destructive thought patterns running through my head – thoughts from my false self, blinding me to my true self as a person eternally embraced by God through ongoing communion and participation in His life. Knowing I am fearful and struggling for peace gives me the opportunity to reorient myself.
The phrase ‘back to school’ is a reflection of our cyclical understanding of time, but hope and excitement require us to have more than a cyclical understanding of time. Cycles can lock us in, making us feel imprisoned or mechanical. Like a clock’s hands, we are always moving but going nowhere. Cycles make us feel like we undergo time rather than live it. For me, hope and excitement arise when I reorient myself to the eternal present – trusting that each moment in time has the potential of opening up into another dimension, a dimension of salvation and grace and abundant life. This is my prayer for all of us as teachers – many eternal moments and the eyes of faith to see those moments.
Again and again, in peace, let us pray to the Lord. (and sweet dreams tonight!)