Tuesday, September 09, 2008

It All Comes Together

Here's a confession: Sometimes -- not all the time, but sometimes -- I feel as though the work I do is unimportant. I work at an independent school, where the tuition for high school students is more than $20,000 per year. Sometimes I feel as though the work I do would be more meaningful if I worked at an inner city school, a school for disadvantaged children. Sometimes, when I walk through the parking lot and see the cars that the students drive -- cars that are beyond my budget -- or pass through the lobby where girls are holding handbags that cost more than enough to feed a family of five for a week, I think I am in the wrong place. I ask myself if working at a school for the wealthy, the privileged, is in conflict with the values I learned at seminary where the focus was on servanthood.

It has been a struggle. I remember the year that Tom taught at a public school in the Bronx. We all thought it was wonderful that he was helping these kids gain an appreciation and understanding of classical music. He didn't think it was so wonderful, because he spent most of his time breaking up fights rather than actually teaching. It was disheartening.

I've thought about this on and off for quite some time.

And this summer, it all began to make sense because of a young man I met.

This young man -- let's call him Nate because that is what his name is -- works tirelessly at the campaign office of the candidate I support. I met him back during the primary season. He was there almost every time I went in, greeting people, listening to their concerns, suggesting ways they might use their talents and skills to help the campaign. He's back now for the general election, patiently registering new voters, answering questions, and listening more than talking, as people share their stories with them. He's probably paid a small salary at this point, though back in the spring I believe he held down a minimalist job of some sort that would enable him to devote so much time to the campaign.

He's bright, he's capable, he's a graduate of a fine college and could be working in a position where he would make more money than I do. But for the present, he's working to effect change, to make a difference in the lives of some of the very people who come into the campaign office. He's committed to an election where health care and so much more is at stake. And he works, seemingly tirelessly, for what he believes in. I don't know what the future holds for him or what he aspires to; I suspect it will have something to do with policy making.

As it turns out, coincidentally, Nate is a graduate of the very school where I work.

Luke says, "Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required."

This school is operated by the Quakers, the Religious Society of Friends. Their values are held up and passed along to the students in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways.

Maybe Nate never heard what Luke had to say. Maybe he did. But he understands it and he lives it. Perhaps better than I do.

And so I am at peace with my struggle, believing that in some way I am contributing to the shaping and forming of young people who are given much and will, in turn, give much.



Karen said...

You wrote, "And so I am at peace with my struggle, believing that in some way I am contributing to the shaping and forming of young people who are given much and will, in turn, give much."

I believe we are all called to serve. I count it a privilege to serve in 2 elementary classrooms, to be a consistent presence in the lives of young ones from families great and not so great.

I guess its called blooming where we are planted.

Sounds like you are in the right garden : )


The Calico Cat said...

You can only do what you can do...

At which school did your husband work?
My Mother in law works at PS 86, My father in law (Of blessed memory) worked at IS 143 & 147

I know a music teacher who works near White Stone - He like it there because his students are Asian & practice/do their homework = I know that is a stereotype, but it is true...

Your husband's experience is why I gave up on teaching...

cq4fun said...

God's plan has you where he wants you, I'm sure. Not only do we bloom where we are planted, but wherever we take ourselves, God finds a use for us.

Mrs. Goodneedle said...

You are blessed to be a blessing to those who meet you, interact with you. The seeds are already planted, you're part of the master gardening plan. Rejoice! Life is Good!!

ProclaimingSoftly (PSanafter-thought) said...

I have some of the same concerns regarding our church colleges. They are expensive. They compete for students who are on the high end academically, which is great, except that middle range students could also benefit from a church-college.

But my biggest concern is that because of the expense, so kids never look farther than the price tag, so there isn't so much economic diversity in the schools anymore. And one way that these college compete for students is to keep increasing the bling type of facilities on campus, feeding into the materialistic side of our culture. I'm not seeing that they counter this much with other spiritual teaching.

Anyway, regarding YOU. You can only bloom where you are planted and keep planting seeds. These kids (all kids) need people who will plant seeds of all kinds of thought diversity.

Guenveur in Kent said...

I really admire those who teach in inner city schools. I think they have some special strength that not all of us have. I certainly could not do it, but I don't think one should blame oneself for not being able to cope with that kind of struggle.
One of the things I always liked about "It's a Wonderful Life" (before I got sick of it) is that one never knows what effect one may have on others in ways one would never consider significant. We all matter, actually, and most of us matter for good, in spite of ourselves.

debijeanm said...

I once had a colleague who came to my school after seven years teaching in inner city Los Angeles. After three years at our upper middle class school in an upper middle class to wealthy neighborhood she announced that our students were no different from the inner city kids. They weren't learning because they did not do their work. The reasons they did not do their work were different (our kids were too busy with ballet, soccer practice and religion classes - replace ballet with martial arts for the boys - to be bothered with homework, too social to bother with classwork) but the result was the same.

Kids is kids, regardless of the "niceness" of the school and need support and modeling by the adults in their lives to keep them on a productive path to a productive life.

SallyB said...

A great read is Frank McCourt's "Teacher Man", about his experiences of teaching in inner city schools. (This book, by the way, should be required reading of all aspiring teachers.) I admire anyone who can do that. I know I certainly couldn't, but it is they who are in need of the greatest attention, because they are the ones at risk of being lost to the lures of the streets instead of making something special of themselves.

As for kids who go to expensive private schools and are children of privilege, let them always remember the mantra of JFK, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." It is ever the truism that of those to whom much is given, much is expected, and far too people who are born into privilege remember this.

We have but to look at Dubya to see an example of someone born to wealth and privilege who has squandered so many opportunities given to him. After all, this is the guy who boasted of getting "gentleman's C's" at Yale instead of taking full advantage of being given the privilege of a good Ivy League education. He should be the example of how not to live your life. Hold up instead the exemplar of Robert F. Kennedy, who, at the end of his life, began to realize how important it is to give of yourself to those who are less fortunate. His loss is still keenly felt......

Karen Dianne Lee said...

My sense is that God works through you, utilizing you as a vessel of his Grace to give to others. Those young children with the nice cars and the nice bags (which I'm fully addicted to but can no longer afford) are sometimes very empty. I think you'd be surprised to find who is the more needy.

They've simply learned how to hide it, how to behave in society.

A Different Perspective of Love, *karendianne./ Living Life at LeeHaven