As the school year began as an ASC at St. Louis University High School (St. Louis MO), much of my reality was in a state of flux. Living with people I had not before known and starting a new job with little previous experience behind me contributed to a period of general instability and change. But now change is transitioning into routine. Life is becoming “normal;” a new normal, granted, but a normal nonetheless. My housemates are no longer the strangers that I just met, but friends. My students are no longer “my new students,” but simply “my students.” My schedule is no longer “my new schedule,” but simply “my schedule.” It is in the transition from change to routine that habits are formed. These early weeks and days after having “settled in” will in many ways determine the rest of the year, because “normal” will be defined by reference to these days and weeks where our habits for the year will be formed.
As Aristotle noted, we are creatures of habit, and habits, once formed, are difficult to break. Further, he argued that virtues and vices—those good and bad proclivities which constitute our moral character—are habits. To be a virtuous person is therefore to be a person with morally upright habits. It is thus all the more imperative that our actions now (which are our future habits) are performed intentionally, i.e., with a specific end in mind; further, it is all the more important that those ends are well chosen. These choices that we make now form our habits and determine the type of people we will be this year. Some habits I (hopefully) am beginning to form I am hoping to form as the result of previous experiences: after awkwardly leading a group discussion which I was not expecting to lead on orientation day, I have realized that the quality of the discussion in the classroom is many times directly commensurate with my preparation for class and ability to predict the twists and turns that may take place during discussion. Extensive lesson planning (or, one might say, lesson scripting) is a daily ritual and task. Other habits I hope to form now are going to bed early, reading a little before bed, and setting aside time for prayer.
Another habit I hope to form—and I hope that all teachers at Jesuit schools form—is a subset of others: that of finding God in all things, and particularly in lesson planning. In addition to setting aside time specifically for prayer, the Jesuit slogan of “finding God in all things” allows us to follow St. Paul’s dictum to pray without ceasing, even as we work. A friend of mine who had recently been a teacher had said that lessoning planning may quickly become one of my most important forms of prayer. As we teachers lesson plan over this week, perhaps we should try to consciously have in mind as a mediate end the students (and their learning), but also to have consciously in mind God as the ultimate end and final cause of our lessons that we prepare for. By dedicating lesson planning to Him and to leading others to Him who is Truth itself, we can form a habit of finding God in all things. And given Aristotle’s claim from Book 10 of the Nicomachean Ethics that contemplation of the Divine is the highest activity of humans, the habit of finding God in all things would indeed be among the greatest of virtues.