“…for knowledge is worth more than anything there is in the world; it's what makes great men and good men; you'll be a great man and a good man yourself, some day, Thomas, and then you'll look back and say… it's all owing to my dear teachers that taught me to learn — it's all owing to the good superintendent, who encouraged me, and watched over me…”
Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain, Kindle location 604
Sometimes we teach students about life amidst our humanness…
Ponderings on Tuesday Night
And yet… I keep thinking about National Honor Society initiation this morning…
And still… National Honor Society initiation keeps coming back to mind…
And my thoughts keep returning to the National Honor Society initiation this morning…
OK, About the National Honor Society Initiation Already!
But I keep returning to this morning to the National Honor Society ceremony where I messed up. (How could you tell I'm upset?) I didn't get to set up yesterday for the event or I would have caught it. Nothing seemed to go right. I couldn't set up because of a late night meeting at the school. It was raining – I was running late. The photo frames for the certificates didn't fit, so I had to just give them certificates (or I would have caught my mistake when I had one extra frame.) I checked everything – my National Honor Society students helped me with everything and are just wonderful.
The only problem is that I messed up.
There was one thing that I had to do and only I had to do — print out the certificates. And, I did the unthinkable.
I left out a student. He was there. He was in line. He was responding and reciting his words. And as soon as I gave out the certificate of the person before him I realized what I had done. I had forgotten his certificate. It wasn't intentional. I had printed it but it had messed up and I didn't print another. I screwed up.
I had to admit my mistake to everyone watching… parents, etc. everyone! I made a comment, they laughed. I MESSED UP! I was embarrassed but even worse, he was embarrassed too! And he didn't even do anything. It wasn't his fault. It was my fault. And nothing I can do can undo what I did. It was an honest, human mistake and I screwed up.
He was affable as were his parents. They were forgiving and so very gracious. But I still know I did something horrible. Something I cannot redo. Something I cannot undo. Something that he'll probably remember for a while if not for the rest of his life. HOW COULD I?
What we live with daily
And my friends, this is a window into the life of a teacher. I'm so sorry that I made a mistake. I'm printing another one and getting it for him (to add insult to injury, the nice laser ran out of ink and I couldn't do it immediately!)
But here is the point… we are teachers. We do things daily like this that mark the lives of those we work with. And in our humanness we mess up. We do.
The difference between us and business people is that they may mess up a product and throw it away, but we are dealing with eternal beings here. We are working with the material of eternal soul – people who have feelings and emotions and deserve our respect and love. And we are human. Oh, so human!
This precious young man deserves a perfect National Honor Society advisor. A perfect teacher. He deserves one. He needs one. One who doesn't screw up and who doesn't forget the certificate and triple checks and doesn't do such a thing. But, he doesn't have such a perfect person — he has me. And I screw up. And, boy, did I screw up today.
Teachers mistakes live forever magnified by memories and often increased over time the hurts we cause, often through our flawed humanness.
FEELING the Pain
Some of you will say I'm being too hard on myself. But I'm a teacher and am empathetic. I FEEL what it would be like to be him and have an adviser do that. It HURTS me.
And that, my friends in this human state is the essence of what we can do. As teachers we need to:
1- Understand that we make mistakes.
2 – Admit it
Don't try to cover it up or excuse it. Be up front and ask for forgiveness.
3 – Empathize
Feel our mistake from their perspective. We cannot pay, we cannot give penance but we can know in our hearts that we understand and feel the pain of what we've done. I will not shed that pain. I will forgive myself and seek God's forgiveness and that of the student – but it is ok to feel what I've done. Perhaps it will impress upon my soul the importance of paying better attention next time and not messing up.
4 – Correct
Correct myself and take steps to not let it happen again. NEVER AGAIN. At least it can be my goal.
5 – Love
The measure and forgiveness I use with my students will be measured back to me when these things happen. If I'm harsh and unforgiving then, when I make these mistakes they will be harsh and unforgiving with me, at least in their hearts.
I don't know what this can teach or tell you except that this is serious business – this teaching, advising, coaching thing that so many of us do who crowd around this web log to discuss what it means to educate our students and our children.
We are humans educating humans and more than ever I feel the importance of my noble calling.
And more than ever I feel the heaviness of my heart when I let one of these precious students and myself down. I will get over this and forgive myself… but not right now. It still keeps returning to my mind – amidst all of the hustle of things I'm doing online.
But, then I return to this quote from Tom Sawyer excerpted at the beginning of this post:
“for knowledge is worth more than anything there is in the world; it's what makes great men and good men”
And sometimes the knowledge we impart to our students is that even the most well meaning, empathetic, loving person among us messes up and needs their complete, undeserving forgiveness. And the giving of such forgiveness, my friends, is what does make great men and women.
Great men and women are not carried down by resentments of the past. They forgive even when it is not deserving and they move on. And this student and his parents, for their generosity and kindness I am forever grateful. They could have “torn me up” as we say in the South, but they didn't. They forgave me (at least I think they did.) I am grateful for their graciousness.
And this young man, with his kindness and forgiveness, perhaps ended this day with the greatest Honor of all. The honor of glimpsing what it means to be great. He and his parents are truly members of the Honor Society in my book.
The honor and nobility of forgiveness given though not deserved. The honor and nobility of kindness when anger was deserved. The greatness of love when fury could have been bestowed. The Honor Society.
Even amidst our mistakes, perhaps especially during our mistakes, the greatest of life's lessons are taught and shared.
Remember your noble calling Teacher, Parent, Principal, Superintendent. Join the Honor Society. Forgiveness is truly your admittance into the Honor Society. Join today by giving someone what they do NOT deserve – your unmerited forgiveness. (You might just make it a habit.)
Photo Attribution: Gurdonark All is Forgiven
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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