The following thoughts are intended for fellow teachers, but others might benefit from listening in.
Students running for student government tend to have a lot of ideas about how the school can be improved. Their ideas for improving the school usually involve staff and faculty using their power, time, and money to make the lives of students easier and more pleasant. They want a senior lounge, more dress down days, longer breaks between classes, more parties, a prom, and so forth. Occasionally, I step in and ask candidates, “And who will take responsibility for your ideas if they go horribly wrong?” They usually respond, “Wait, what could possibly go wrong?”
Of course, when adults implement teenage ideas and those ideas go horribly awry, it is adults who take legal and fiscal responsibility for the mess while teenagers look on and say, “I did not see that coming,” or, “That was not what I meant.” Meanwhile, the adults get sued.
Similarly, I have a whole bunch of ideas about what would be best for my school. I have ideas about policies, procedures, bureaucratic changes, curriculum changes, not to mention COVID contingency plans. Occasionally I share these ideas with the administration, but most of the time I keep them to myself.
I have learned to see myself in my students.
Like my students, a lot of my great ideas involve other people taking legal and fiscal responsibility for plans that— in my opinion— would work really well. Of course, if the administration took my ideas and they proved disastrous, I would be the one looking on, saying, “I did not see that coming,” or, “Whoa, you should not have listened to me. I am only 39.”
Why bring any of this up now? Because in the 2020-2021 school year, there is far more up for grabs than ever before.
Just one year ago, pretty much nobody had an opinion on how many days a week school should be in session. While touring a school, prospective parents never asked, “Do you meet Monday through Friday?” Monday through Friday, 8 to 3 was a given. But that has changed. Now, everyone has an opinion about issues that were perfectly settled just a few months ago— and here’s an unsurprising claim: a few of the opinions about “what is best for the school” currently floating around are actually just descriptions of what is most convenient for me.
All of which means that administrators are no longer merely fielding suggestions that every student needs a laptop, or that Homer was a racist, or that the school mascot isn’t woke enough. Because of COVID, absolutely none of the concrete is dry anymore. Not only is Homer up for debate. School itself is up for debate. And so private school administrators across the country are about to enter into the most difficult year of their careers.
Accordingly, there has never been a better time for teachers to learn the virtue of longsuffering. Teachers need to expect a wildly inconvenient, idiosyncratic, uneven year. Teachers need to expect a year where experimental policies drag on two weeks too long. Teachers need to expect a year where class schedules seem scientifically engineered to be as annoying as possible. Teachers need to expect baffling about-faces on executive decisions that seemed to be working perfectly. This is a year when the administration will have to balance out the demands of a greater and more diverse number of interested parties than ever before. Teachers, remember this: in the same way your students don’t see the whole picture, you don’t see the whole picture either.
It is extraordinarily easy to insist other people should take responsibility for your ideas, but unless you want to be in charge— which is to say legally culpable— for your entire school, accept the fact that the administrative team at your school sees things differently than you do. If you teach literature or science or rhetoric, your neck isn’t on the line in 2020-2021, at least not in the same way the administrative team’s neck is on the line. You’re not answering angry emails about masks. You’re not answering angry emails about social distancing. You’re not fielding claims that the school should “Let go and let God,” whatever that means. You’re writing “Agincourt” on the board, telling stories about what an idiot you were at sixteen, grading papers, and begging God’s unwarranted clemency on your school, your job, and your family.
2020-2021 is a year set aside for teachers to absorb their frustrations and complaints with others. 2020-2021 is a year to contemplate how many times you have screwed up, how many times you have failed to discern the truth, how many times you have narrowly avoided death (or jail, or hell). 2020-2021 is a year to throw your frustrations with others down the black hole of your own sin. Don’t let your regrets go to waste. Your own sin is a bottomless pit which can absorb the sins of others. When others are rude to you, throw their rudeness down the black hole of your own rudeness. When others say stupid things, throw their stupidity down the unfathomable trench of your own stupidity. “Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof” means that dealing with your own classroom is enough for you. You have not been called to carry the cross of the entire school, but someone else. Do not tell those people they are carrying it wrong. Remember all the Scriptural injunctions to keep silence.
Solomon teaches, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other,” which means that even if this year is one vexing annoyance after another, God has decreed it so, not the CDC. To a difficult year, the good teacher’s response is nonsensical, irrational gratitude. The teacher’s response is, “I know, O Lord, that I justly deserve any suffering Thou mayest inflict upon me, for I have so often offended Thee and sinned against Thee in thought, word, and deed.” The teacher’s response is, “Look upon my weakness, and deal not with me according to my sins.”