“What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”
That question, posed by and answered in James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, is one of the most helpful aids to teacherly meditation and evaluation that I know. It is always timely, always chastening, always hope-bringing. For not only do I easily forget to love, and forget what to love, but I also forget what love is. Excitement and enthusiasm for my subject? Connection to my students? Passion in directing our studies towards love of God?
It is easy, at the beginning of the year, to feel all of these things—excitement, enthusiasm, connection, passion. Every choice is purposeful; every day is fresh; every opportunity is taken.
But as the year drifts on, then perhaps other feelings drift in as well. Quick annoyance at pointing out the same punctuation errors in paper after paper. Sharp responses to the students who persist in asking grade-oriented questions when you’re trying to foster a love of learning. Sense of betrayal when students who listened with eyes alight to your speaking of goodness, beauty, and truth are caught plagiarizing. A giving-up on the withdrawn students who still sit in the corner sketching anime, who never know what is happening in class.
At this point, love cannot be mere excitement and enthusiasm, connection and passion. Our definition must delve deeper.
Love suffers long and is kind, using a gentle voice to explain something for the thousandth time, continuing patiently to search for the root of the misunderstanding, dealing even discipline with graciousness.
Love does not envy, does not wish to trade its duties for a carefree life, does not grumble that teachers and homeschooling mothers are undervalued, does not rush through schooldays to get to break days.
Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, but is humble enough to work quietly and hiddenly, to remember to praise students when they do well, to ask for alternate explanations before making accusations about late homework or missed classes.
Love does not rejoice in iniquity—in “Gotcha!” moments and last chances—but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
If I have not this love, my speaking in class is a sounding gong and clanging symbol. For this is the love that is the end of learning. This is the love we want our students to learn for the subjects, that they might learn it for their souls. And this is the love we must ourselves practice, must allow students to experience, if they are to be able to imitate it themselves.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three. Faith that the work is not in vain, hope that we will yet see its fruit—and love, the greatest of these, to give life to the faith and the hope.