I am writing this post because I am furious. So furious my stomach hurts and I wish I had something to throw. But I am in my office so the most I can do is clench my jaw, complain to colleagues who are unfortunate enough to be in my path, and I can write.
Well, I’m getting June’s Heart of the Month in just under the wire, but I have a good reason: today my mother, MaryAnne Crowley, officially completed 34 years and nine months of a truly inspiring teaching career. She did a few other things in the meantime, such as gave birth to and stayed home with three children, moved house 5 times, supported my dad as he went to law school at night to pursue his own professional dream of becoming a lawyer, got a Masters Degree as a Reading Specialist, learned to play golf, travelled to more countries than I can think of, and compiled a truly spectacular shoe collection, especially for someone with size 5 feet. The best line at her retirement party was spoken by one of the younger teachers my mother has mentored: “You may have tiny feet, but you have very big shoes to fill.”
We should ask God
To help us toward manners. Inner gifts
Do not find their way
To creatures without respect.
The pursuit of learning is a noble act. To learn and to teach are among the most fundamental of human activities. Who has not known the impulse to learn and the wish to inspire?
Let us remember that we make an unspoken contract every time we step into the classroom. We assume the timeless roles of teacher and learner, with all of the powerful hopes and expectations that govern these roles. We enter into a relationship whose purpose is, as Yeats described it, “the lighting of a fire.” Nothing less than this is what takes place in the classroom. When approached with the proper spirit, this work elevates and inspires all who participate in it.
And yet, how often do we experience the classrooms of our campuses as dull, fatiguing, and discouraging, sodden with the unfulfilled hopes of both teachers and students? Very often. The classroom is meant to be an arena of inspiration, creativity, and preparation. When we disregard this, we end up in the airless vacuum of confusion, resentment and stifled growth.
And yet, there is hope. Truly wonderful teaching and learning are often viewed as a kind of alchemy, a magical experience out of the reach of most lay practitioners. This is not so. The relationship between the student and the teacher is a social one, and like all social relationships, it is governed by rules of behavior. It is governed by manners. By this we do not mean merely the prevailing social customs, which can be fleeting and arbitrary, but rather the timelessly honorable manner of how we speak to and treat others. The absence of manners in the classroom distracts from the ennobling acts of teaching and learning. The presence of manners may remind us, as the poet says, of the inner gifts that await us when we practice respect and discipline. With this in mind, let us begin.