‘Get a real job!’ - the reality of school
Posted: Thu, 21 May 2020 18:58
In his latest article on being a Catholic teacher, Mike reflects on engagement with reality. (Photo: Freephoto on Pixabay)
Being a proud Scouse lad, the lyrics of the Beatles I am sure are as much as part of my DNA as the double helix. Music and football are an instant conversation starter where ever I go. One of the most sublime lyrics of the Fab Four is 'Living is easy with eyes closed.' Can you name that tune? Of course it is from the Double-A-Side 'Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane.' This genius lyric touches my heart and speaks to me at a deep level about my vocation to the ministry of education.
Hands up if as a teacher or a non-teaching member of staff, you have ever heard:
'You've never left school!'
'Get a real job!'
'In the real world you'd never get away with thirteen weeks paid leave!'
and, in the current painful situation of the global pandemic, some people calling for teachers to 'Get back to work!' - like we have ever stopped working!
When I am confronted with such comments and a world view that reduces 'reality' to very limited parameters, I take a deep breath and count to ten. Reality. What is reality? Well, I can only speak for the reality I work in daily on the front line of education. Reality in this context is a complex system that involves the educational community undertaking the most diverse roles in the space of each hour. If school was a simple matter of teaching, administration, finance, welfare, life would be so simple. Days might start at 8.00 am and finish at 3.00 pm; but they do not. The ministry of education – and in this I include all those who enter the holy ground of school on a daily basis in whatever role they are called to – is a multi-layered and multi-dimensional vocation.
The reality is that school mirrors society, and on any given day we can have moments of celebration, experiences of joy, sadness, grief, pain, anger, loss. The stage of life is played out daily in every school. One of my heroes is the person whose official title says one thing, yet in reality their role is much bigger. Daily house visits dealing with the most vulnerable children and families, offering live-saving and well as life-giving support. The dignity and the agapeic love of this individual shows the reality of Christ's love to all who have eyes to see. Every school has many people like this.
I once sat in an office with a student and cried! And I am meant to the strict one! Yet the reality of the situation I was confronted with reduced me to tears. The depth of suffering this young person faced brought home to me the reality of the situation many staff are confronted with on a daily basis. And it would, in the words of the Beatles, be easy to live 'with eyes closed'. But we, as ministers to the young, are called to enter school each day with eyes and hearts wide open. To not only see the reality of life, the joys as well as fears, but to embrace them and walk with them. In Mark we read, 'When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.' This is the role of all who work with young people: to be open to them, present to them and their needs, hopes, wishes and pains. To show them compassion and love. These little ones are our sheep and we must be the shepherd.
Leadership at every level must also embrace this Gospel-driven model of confronting reality. As leaders, the pastoral concern for staff and the realities they face must always be at the centre of our hearts and minds. I have a trusted colleague and a safe place where I know I will be ministered to and hosted with charity and understanding. The patron saint of children, Don Bosco, and the patron saint of teachers, de la Salle, are opposite sides of the same coin. They embraced the realities of the situations they found themselves in. With loving-kindness and optimism they won hearts, minds and souls. They did not live with their eyes closed. Quite the opposite: their eyes and hearts were wide open to the endless possibilities that their pupils could achieve when taught through love. For by seeing the incarnate God in each of their children they only response was to love. This is what we as minsters of education are called to do.
Thomas Merton is a hero of mine. He was real! One of his foundational experiences happened in Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district. 'I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realisation that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.' This reality: that we as humans are united by the divine presence that is God, who lives in us all, is the same reality that we, as people who work with the young, should embrace. To live in solidarity with our students is to live in the real world.
In response to those who invite me to 'get a real job', I simply smile, pray and thank God that I have a job that is firmly rooted in reality.