Inclusion matters ... so include yourself!
Posted: Thu, 03 Dec 2020 19:19
Catholic teacher, Mike Bennett, looks at the importance of inclusion in meeting the needs of young people at school - and asks exhausted teachers to remember to include themselves as well. Photo: Shutterstock
My family have been blessed with the loving kindness of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, an order of good sisters who were founded in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. Their charism is performing works of charity for those on the margins of society. Sisters Eve, Monica, Catherine and Pauline looked after my mum when she lost her dad—my grandfather—to leukaemia on Christmas Day 1993. Indeed, their compassionate ministry included all the family—they are living saints. Sr. Monica was particularly close to the family. One memorable evening, when Monica came to dinner, my brother and I had been in the pub all afternoon and arrived home ravenous. As soon as the food hit the table, we dived in, only to be sharply told by our mother "Grace first!" News to us, as we had never said Grace before! We quickly withdrew and tried our best to look holy. Monica smiled, winked and said "Say your own Grace boys—you must be starving." And so we ate.
Sr. Monica acknowledged a truth—that there are times when we have to think about ourselves. We need to be aware of our own needs. The founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, when advising his troops on evangelisation, told them "Soup, Soap, then Salvation,'. Clearly, he saw the value of serving the corporeal needs first. Like Sr. Monica, he had an understanding of the true shape of inclusion: we fail to widen the scope of inclusion to include ourselves at our peril.
Many teachers are masters of inclusion. They work tirelessly to give the best quality education to the pupils they serve. Philosophically, they see education as being at the service of humanity; spiritually, they recognise that all children are made in the image of God, practically, they work extremely hard to ensure that all children are supported, nurtured, cared for and loved. Some teachers, sadly, don't have this view of inclusion, but the majority do. The average week for a teacher is fifty hours, and at this time of the year, staff always look 'shattered'. In the current situation, staff look beyond shattered, yet, amid their utter fatigue, they are still pushing, planning, caring and loving. In my own school, staff are planning on giving our pupils – 70% of whom are Pupil Premium – a good experience of Christmas. They are working well beyond the bounds of 'hard work'. And they are not in the minority; this is what we do. Teachers include.
But there comes a time when we must pause, breathe, and include ourselves! Teachers cannot serve if they do not also serve themselves once in a while. They cannot 'feed' their pupils if they are not full themselves. When the well runs dry, there is nothing to sustain. This is a lesson that many of us need to learn. In a world in which teachers continually include, others they must also be kind to themselves.
This does not come naturally to Salesians. Don Bosco was so inclusive of others he neglected to 'include' himself. His health was in peril a number of times due to nearly working himself to death. One of the saddest things I have ever seen is a collection of photographs of Don Bosco in his rooms at Valdocco—the images are in ten year intervals and you can see Bosco age in such a short amount of time. Those of us who walk in his shoes must serve others but remember to serve our own needs too.
In the Gospel of John we read
Therefore Jesus said again, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
John 10: 7-16
We, as teachers in the Catholic tradition, with a vocation to the ministry of education, know what it means to be the Good Shepherds. It's what we do. We serve and include, we try never to let one sheep go astray. Yet at this time of the year, it is worth reminding ourselves that in the world of inclusion, we must include our own needs too. My headteacher has taught me the value of self-preservation, whereby at this time of the year, we aim to leave school on at least one evening before 5.30 pm. Or, maybe not work all day Sunday. It's OK to be good to ourselves. This is what self-preservation means to me. It is an act of inclusion that includes me!
Self-Inclusion is a skill I am slowly leaning and to help me on my journey I reflect on this passage from Matthew's Gospel:
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.
Interesting that, Jesus, the great model of inclusion, needed to rest! And he did so before he walked on water. Well, many teachers perform daily miracles! And if rest is good enough for Christ, it's good enough for us.
Please, when including others, take pains to be truly inclusive and think about yourself.