Tag Archives: education

Lent 2012: Day 22

Kind words will set right things which have got most intricately wrong. In reality an unforgiving heart is a rare monster. Most men get tired of the justest quarrels.

If I could teach my students one extra-curricular lesson, it would be this. I have calmed furious students (sometimes furious at me, most often furious about something some peer has done) with a few kind words so often that it has become almost instinctive: “Get the kid away from the situation and say something kind.” A smile helps as well.

Yet they re-enter the same quarrel, sometimes only hours later (occasionally, even more quickly), and I can see a certain Sisyphean fatigue in them as they fuss. “A calm answer…” I mutter to myself, wondering if I can teach that by example alone.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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Lent 2012: Day 17

A kind interpretation of actions is such a far-removed idea for me at times, but perhaps the most challenging times are when I’m in a heated situation with a student and when I’m driving in Greenville.

We must come to esteem very lightly our sharp eye for evil, on which perhaps we once prided ourselves as cleverness.

The latter is the most consistent challenge. While I don’t necessarily see other drivers’ motivation as being a result of evil, I constantly pride myself on the cleverness of my own driving as compared that of my fellow pilgrims on the road. This idiot doesn’t know how to turn left at a traffic light. That dolt waits until the car in front of him is twenty car lengths ahead before pulling starting from a green stop light. This moron pulls so far into the intersection that it’s difficult to make a left turn around her. That dork is so busy texting that he misses at least five seconds of the light. This one is a matter of merely reminding myself that I’ve no idea what these people drive the way they drive and that perhaps they have very good reasons. Perhaps the person hesitant to make a left turn recently had a terrible accident doing so. Maybe the person who is waiting for the care in front of him to be a seemingly ridiculous distance from him before starting is having car problems and the car doesn’t respond as well as he wishes. Possibly person pulling too far in to the intersection is on the way to a critical meeting — perhaps a family member is ill in the hospital — and made a last-minute decision not to push the yellow light. And perhaps the person texting is texting about the death of a loved one.

Calmness while driving — offering what Faber calls “kind interpretations” — is fairly simple: there’s very little at stake. A few moments lost here or there is hardly something to get enraged about, and whether or not the kind interpretations are justified, it all seems a relatively moot point when we consider who brief and insignificant the interaction.

The former example of heated situations with students is of much greater import. These are not brief, insignificant interactions. Like it or not, the student and I will meet again tomorrow — and the day after and the day after that — and will have to work together productively. So when a student begins the day with a smart comment to me, simply wants to come in and sleep, simmers with anger at a mild request from me, or any number of things that I would normally be tempted to take personally as an assault on my classroom authority and my personal dignity, I really have two choices in how I deal with the situation, and the decision I make depends on whether or not I create for myself a kind interpretation of the individual’s motives. Students come to class with any number of significant and insignificant emotional weight pulling them down, and the simple truth is I have no idea when someone has placed more mass on her shoulders. Perhaps this young man comes from an abusive home and he just faced down a violently angry parent to deflect injury from a younger sibling. Maybe this young lady is responsible for a eight-week-old sibling during the night because their mother works the night shift. This young man might not have eaten breakfast this morning and had very little dinner the night before. Any one of these situations would be enough to set a day off on a crooked trail. And while I know more about these kids than the average stranger, most of them are still virtual strangers to me when it comes to the clockworks of their lives.

A kind interpretation of their anger, apathy, exhaustion, and frustration results in a kind answer, and we all know what that does.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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Lent 2012: Day 8

Thus does kindness propagate itself on all sides. Perhaps an act of kindness never dies, but extends the invisible undulations of its influence over the breadth of centuries.

“We can only plant the seeds. We never know how they will grow” It’s a common refrain in teaching, and I always kind of thought it was a cop-out. At times I feel like, quite frankly, such a failure as a teacher. Kids spend 180 days with me, and some of them seem none the better for it. It’s perhaps a useful guilt: it might spur teachers to become better at their job, to seek training and experiences that will increase their effectiveness.

Perhaps an act of kindness never dies

But saying, “We can only plant the seeds” seems somehow to alleviate that guilt. We plant the seeds; it’s up to the kids to tend the resulting crop.

Faber suggests otherwise: it’s not a cop-out. We can sow kindness and know, with some certainty, that it will grow into more kindness. We can know that we’ve had a positive impact on someone’s life. Perhaps it’s a good sign that we’re more willing to admit the opposite, or maybe it’s just another sign of our condition.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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Lent 2012: Day 5

the immense power of kindness in bringing out the good points of the characters of others

When I can lift myself above my wounded ego — “What?! How dare you be cruel or disrespectful to me, who is only trying to help you get an education!” — and respond thoughtfully and kindly, a change sometimes occurs, a softening, a reflective moment of calm.

A kind word or tone can transform conflicts into positive experiences. A simple kindness of offering to help a kid by holding books while he rummages through his locker can bring a smile where once there was anger.

Even if all is well in the student’s life at the moment, an act of kindness can echo into the future. Relationships are like bank accounts: we can make deposits through kindness that will give us a buffer against emotionally stressful withdrawals.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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Lent 2012: Day 4

Probably the majority of repentances have begun in the reception of acts of kindness, which, if not unexpected, touched men by the sense of their being so undeserved.

Reading Faber, I keep returning to thoughts of school and interactions with students. And I can’t deny that there are times, based on behavior of various students, that I find myself thinking that this or that student doesn’t deserve kindness. When someone is disrupting others, making it difficult to focus on the task at hand, focusing all her energies on getting everyone’s attention, she is attempting to take opportunities away from others. It’s a myth to think that students today aren’t interested in learning — the vast majority are, keenly so. But it only takes two or three in a classroom to derail the whole process, and an incorrigible student soon draws the ire of other students and the teacher.

It is precisely at those moments that I most decidedly don’t feel like being kind. It is in those situations that the temptation to cruelty is most acute. Responses come to mind that are so ineffably and cruelly inappropriate but at the same time seem so perfect. Yet a kind word can sometimes calm the whole situation, while cruelty will only debase everyone in the room. It’s the easy way out, which is why kindness can be so difficult.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

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In Line

I fancy I can tell a lot about someone from their shopping cart’s contents. Lots of frozen foods or processed packaged foods means little time for and/or interest in cooking. Lots of power tools means new homeowner or generous present. A collection of books on the MLA format means a son or daughter working on a research paper.

Generalizations, certainly, but they’re probably accurate at least occasionally. I look in our cart and I can tell quite a bit. Of course, I have the Cliff Notes to my own life, so there’s not much guess work there.

More revealing, though, can be the conversations in the line. One of the reasons I prefer to Polish in public is the privacy it provides. I certainly wouldn’t want those around me to hear an exchange between L and me like the one I overheard yesterday.

A mother and her two children were piling up frozen foods at the checkout when the oldest daughter — probably around fourteen or fifteen — pulled a copy of Twilight from under a bag of frozen fries and asked, “Do I have to put it back?”

Mother’s response was stunning: “You won’t read it! I’ve never seen you sit and read anything.”

The girl turned the book over in her hands a couple of times, and with a sigh, trudged off to replace the book on the shelf.

The temptations: “Has she ever seen you sit and read anything?” “Wonderful job of encouraging your daughter to read.” The greatest, though, was the most dangerous: as the girl passes me, “Here — I’ll buy it for you.”

Instead, I whispered to L, in Polish for added security, “I’ll buy you all the books you want.”

Shopping cart photo by Dan4th.

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Medicaid Cuts

From the Sacramento Bee

The Bush administration plans to stop reimbursing states for school-based Medicaid activities, including transporting disabled students, a move that would cost California schools more than $100 million a year.

Read the rest of the story.

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