Since two of us sisters teach, and the other works in an educational institution, I have been thinking A LOT about teaching and learning. So, this is a post for all teachers out there. I've been reflecting on teaching as a vocation, and I thought I'd just share my little 'idylls and rambles' with you.
What got me thinking is this. Soon, I'll be visiting with Julian and Agatha! YAY! I cannot wait - this will be our longest reunion ever! Agatha told me that while I am visiting, she will be able to introduce me to the priest who got me interested in political philosophy - Fr. James Schall. He is one of my heroes, and next to the Pope, he is probably one of the only clergy members I simply dream of meeting! Right before a semester begins when I am teaching, I always re-read a little essay of his on teaching political philosophy found in his book On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs. I certainly recommend it! I finally get to meet the man who has been my teacher throughout undergrad and grad school. You can imagine my joy!
So that is why I have been thinking so much about teaching. You know, students always complain about their teachers. We all did it, it's true. "Mr. So-and-So is too hard and mean!" "Miss So-and-So assigns too much work! Doesn't she know there is a huge football game this weekend?" But I'd like to remind all students about something. Teachers are simply students who fell madly in love. And the best thing a student can do for a teacher is remind him what exactly it was he fell in love with. Let me explain.
In my political philosophy classes, I like to share with my students the questions that make me love to study. I ask them to challenge themselves to come up with some answers to the things that are essential, both eternal and human things - even if the answers cannot be entirely found. Fr. Schall's aforementioned book reminds me of this when he writes about teaching students:
Students arrive in inchoate intellectual shape before a professor. They are ritually embarrassed if someone affirms that something can be true or right, that something is evil, that most of the current enthusiasms for which students and politicians stake their lives are ideological in nature. . . . These same students are quite surprised, even sometimes pleased, to learn that the purpose of thinking is not just thinking but thinking about the truth. They are relieved to be told, finally, that the purpose of truth is that we should live according to it, and that we will not be happy unless we 'know ourselves.' p. 117I love telling my students that truth, goodness, untruth, and evil are real. And the response is that most of them crave to hear those words. They want the truth. And, as Fr. Schall writes, "The truth we know, moreover, is not exclusively 'ours.' When students learn the same truth we have taken so long to learn, we are not less, though they are more." (p. 112) The reason is love. We as teachers fell (and are falling) in love with something that revealed to us the truth, and the reality that we should live by it. God is truth and God is love, and therefore we fall in love with the God who desires us and reveals Himself to us through our studies. And we cannot but share that love because love by its very nature cannot be self-serving. If it becomes as such, then it is no longer love, and the teacher becomes merely an agenda pusher -- and the students can usually sniff out the difference, even if they don't always know how to respond properly.
No teacher can be truly a teacher without love. Teaching is a labor of love, as Pope Benedict reminds us in the his address to Catholic educators when he speaks of the importance of 'intellectual charity':
This aspect of charity calls the educator to recognize that the profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love. Indeed, the dignity of education lies in fostering the true perfection and happiness of those to be educated. In practice “intellectual charity” upholds the essential unity of knowledge against the fragmentation which ensues when reason is detached from the pursuit of truth. It guides the young towards the deep satisfaction of exercising freedom in relation to truth, and it strives to articulate the relationship between faith and all aspects of family and civic life. Once their passion for the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, young people will surely relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of what they ought to do. Here they will experience “in what” and “in whom” it is possible to hope, and be inspired to contribute to society in a way that engenders hope in others.As teachers, one of the greatest joys we have is to witness the love we share set another on fire in a totally unique way. That is how students remind us of why we love to teach - they respect our love, respond to it, they seek, they desire. All teachers should point their students inward - to know themselves, and then outward - to seek Him. Teachers participate in God's love in a special way - perhaps by echoing Christ's words in the Gospel of Luke: "I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" (Lk 12: 49). Let us fulfill Christ's desire for the fire of our love by helping Him to set His people ablaze!