Following one of the primary formulas I’ve been told to store away in my teacher grab bag, I’d like to start this entry with a video and then discuss it. The video is around 12 minutes long (around 11:30 longer than people my age may be used to) and briefly describes the life of a Louisville Male High School physics teacher, Jeffrey Wright.
Now, as an English teacher, I’d like to point out that the Hollywood trope of the inspirational yet unconventional teacher who changes the lives of his students is, in my humble opinion, overdone. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have an effect on me (as my fellow ASCers who may have heard my sobs during Mr. Holland’s Opus at boot camp may attest to).
But this video in particular has come to mean a lot to me. I first saw it as I was considering joining ASC, and it helped to solidify my desire to try teaching as a possible career choice. But it also reminded me of why I would even consider a year of service in the first place. It is refreshingly real – not particularly melodramatic or overly sentimental – but honest in its portrayal of the story of a compassionate, lighthearted man who simply loves both his students and his own developmentally disabled son, despite the hardships. He has become an example for me of what it would mean to be completely self-giving. Yet what I find so powerful about this video is that he does not ask for recognition for the burden he undertakes to make an impact on these people – but he simply does it because his heart is overflowing with love.
I saw this video a second time through what I believe was God acting through Facebook (as He so often does), the night before I was to teach for the first time. It was a particularly great time to see this video again. As I lay there hardly able to sleep because of the pool of nerves in which I was stewing, this video brought to mind what exactly my mission as a teacher and as an ASC volunteer was – to make a impact on my students lives.
And although some may see that statement as a little too idealistic, I started to reflect on the many models of teaching that I have been presented with, especially in my fellow teachers at SLUH. Time and time again I have noticed the genuine and unfailing care that these teachers have for their students. Conversations ranging from concerns about students’ technological attachments to the dangers of unjustly labeling an entire class as troublemakers have shown me how genuinely concerned these teachers are for their students to develop as human persons. I have watched teachers smile and laugh, high-five their students, and ask them about their lives, because they care deeply about who these students are.
And although this idea may not only be found in Jesuit institutions, it is an attitude that I believe permeates the culture of every Jesuit institution I’ve known. The phrase that we often use to describe this phenomenon is cura personalis – “care for the whole person.”
I have seen its manifestation in so many ways: in how my fellow teachers interact with their students, how my ASC community members interact with each other and in how my mentor will go out of his way to ensure that I am doing well. And nobody does it for recognition, but, like Jeffrey Wright, they do it because their hearts are full of love. And that is the kind of teacher, and the kind of person, that I want to be.