One Monday morning just before the bell rings for school, I am already overwhelmed.
The students are buzzing around in the hallways and the building is alive with adolescents. My class is about to start and I have 100 things to do for the day. With just a couple minutes before the bell, I’m entering a column of grades on the computer so I can give the quiz papers back during class time. My fingers are flailing, the keyboard smoldering with my clicking.
At that moment a young student came into my room and sat down near me. She excitedly said, “Mr. Galante, I want to tell you something. Yesterday my family went to the play 1776. It was all about the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the colonies. You know, all the stuff we studied about John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia? I learned so much about the Revolution from that play.”
So often, the job overwhelms the mission
And I stopped typing and listened with interest. Actually, no. I wish that was what happened.
In truth, I was barely paying attention, buried under my endless bureaucratic tasks. I continued to enter grades on the computer, not even looking at her as she spoke. As she continued, I simply mumbled back “that’s nice” or “hey, that’s interesting” or just grunted. But I wasn’t really listening.
Teachers are overworked. And because of that, it’s too easy to lose sight of our actual mission. So often, the job overwhelms the mission. My job was to enter those grades so that the students would get their work back. Also, to give a statistical accounting of each student’s performance. My job is to be efficient and thorough.
Too bad the job destroys the mission. Let’s take a look at what that means and of how we all can keep the mission first.
Eventually on that Monday morning, I had my epiphany.
This young lady is trying to connect with you.
You taught her something in class that she took out into the world and used! She thought about it and extended her knowledge. This is exactly what this youngster is supposed to be doing. This is exactly what we want all of our students to do. To take what they learn in school and apply it and look for examples in the world as they live their lives.
This excited young lady came to school early to tell me about her experience at a play, and all I could do was grunt a couple of impatient remarks and keep pounding away on my computer. This young person honored me and America’s history, and the best I gave her back was a clipped, “That’s nice.”
But the epiphany says: Stop. Close the computer. Put the pen down. Turn to face her. Look into her eyes and listen. This column of grades on the computer does not matter. What matters is this young soul in front of you. This young person who wants to share what she has learned with you.
How sad is this?
I should have been honored that this youngster would come to me before school. It is for a teacher a crowning moment when a youngster takes your school lessons and applied them to her world. This should have been a wonderful moment for me, the teacher. But instead I gave her a clipped, terse answers and more or less wished she would stop talking.
So I could get my job done.
How sad is this? This, I want to assert to all educators, is an absolute upside-down perversion of what should be happening in our teaching. The mission is this young lady. The mission is her mind and her spirit and her imagination and her desires to make sense of her world. Teachers must support the mission, without letting the job get in the way.
But how do we do this? It’s hard. The institutions want, want, want and want from their teachers. It is easy to become harried and impatient with those around us because we are frantically trying to get our jobs done. Very frequently the job subverts the mission.
So to all educators reading this, I’d like to remind us to keep the mission first. When interacting with students, ask yourself, “Does this action support the mission, or is just part of the job?” If it’s just the teaching job, it can wait. The grades will get into the computer later. Right now, there is a young soul in front of you who needs you.
The soul is the mission.
We all went into teaching because we knew it was a noble way to transform lives. We began with the mission of touching hearts and souls. And we end up cranky while we type on keyboards because the job moves at the speed of Google and school officials are breathing down our necks for grades, budget memos, field trip reports and the like.
There are no universal solutions to the situation I’m describing, but if you are a teacher, you know what I’m talking about. Keep the mission in sight. It’s the reason we do what we do.
Was this post helpful to you? Please share it with a friend, or on your social networks. Spread the word!