So we’re back to school after our holiday break, and we’re a week into a brand new year, and I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple of days about an experience that I had during our vacation that has hit me like a fist to the jaw…an experience that has me thinking about what’s really important in our lives as educators (and as human beings), and what is the real purpose and the top priority that we have when we step in front of young people each and every day.
It was the day after Christmas and we were driving in the early morning to the airport to begin the second leg of our holiday. I was in the front seat of the taxi, with a bag between my legs full of gifts that we had all just recently opened the day before, and I was thinking about how terribly uncomfortable I was when we pulled up to a red light. I looked out my window to an empty lot across the street and saw a beat up and run down homeless shelter that was put together with cardboard boxes and pieces of wood and plastic bags…it had a few shopping carts parked outside and clothes hanging from a makeshift laundry line, and to me it was truly a sad and depressing sight. When I looked closer however, and a little to the left of the shelter, I saw a tiny Charlie Brown Christmas tree that was propped up with rocks…it was decorated with a few cans and some red ribbon, and underneath it was a little soccer ball that was made out of rubber bands or something like that…all of a sudden a boy about 10 years old came sprinting out of the shelter, along with his scraggly old dog, and he raced for the tree and the ball and started playing around like he was in the World Cup. He was laughing and smiling and full of joy and very much feeling the joy of Christmas. A few seconds later his father came out stretching and yelling to the boy to kick the ball his way, and they began playing. Just as the light turned green, I saw the father pick up the boy and grab him in a big bear hug and kiss him just like I do to my kids…all of a sudden I wasn’t all that uncomfortable anymore with my bag full of presents cramping my legs.
For the rest of the ride to the airport I starting thinking about how truly privileged I am, and how I could be doing so much more to give back to those less fortunate. I remember just before that red light I was wondering if my kids had received enough gifts for Christmas, and how maybe I should buy them a few more things when we landed at our next destination…wow, talk about a wake up call. I haven’t been able to get that little boy’s smiling face out of my head for the last few weeks, and it’s driven me to think about the real “education” that we should be imparting to our very privileged international school students…our first responsibility is NOT to make them better students, it’s to make them better people!
Our job is to teach them that they are in a position to be able to change our world for the better, and that giving back is not a choice, but a responsibility. Our job is to help them find their purpose as young people so that when they become adults they are living meaningful lives with an eye on impacting change. Our job is to get them into not the “best” colleges but the “right” colleges, that will allow them to find this purpose and meaning. Our job is to get them to understand that the decisions that they make and the actions that they take should be not only about what’s best for themselves, but also about what’s best for others. Our job is to get our kids to see and understand how everything that they are learning has a purpose…a purpose which ultimately relates to them becoming successful citizens who make a positive contribution to our world. Our job is get our young students to see their privilege, and to use it as a tool for good for others, not just selfishly. Our job is to make our kids struggle and fall and make mistakes and to feel uncomfortable…this will help them become resilient and strong willed and able to make courageous decisions as the grow older…and now. Our job is to teach our kids right from wrong, and to teach them about integrity and character and honesty and the power of a smile and a kind word. Our job is to NOT make better students, it’s to make better people.
Thinking about the year ahead, I’m wondering about all of this…I’m looking not only at my life and how I can do more, I’m wondering about how we can do more with our kids, so they grow into the people that we need them to be for our world. We all need to recognize how privileged we are, and we need to use this privilege to create a better future for generations to come. We also need to stop and think about all of our “first world problems” that we often complain about, and recognize this year that joy is in the little things in life, and that happiness can be found in a loving relationship, a rubber band soccer ball and a scraggly old dog…it’s about love and finding ways to making other people’s lives better through our daily actions…it’s about all of us giving back and teaching our students to do the same. Happy New Year everyone, and I’m challenging us all to make this the year of giving back, and using our power as educators to teach our kids what’s really important in their lives…being their best self for others…not for themselves. Have a great week and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other.
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To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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