“It’s June 19th, and I already miss teaching at my school, Saint John’s Prep.”
A Short Reflection from Ms. Fitch…
It’s June 19th and I already miss teaching. It’s true.
More specifically, though, it’s June 19th and I already miss teaching at my school, Saint John’s Prep. These first few weeks at home have given me some space to think about why it is I continue to teach at Prep after eleven years, and even more, why I miss it after less than a month away.
I’m not sure why, but yesterday, especially, this question tussled around in my mind, waiting for a firmer, more pointed answer than just “I like the community,” or “the students are great,” (which both are very much true, by the way). For whatever reason, the tussling felt strongest at the very moment I noticed my 15-month old, John, pick up a marble from the floor. Moms do this: we think philosophically (“why do I do what I do? Why do I teach?”) while also wiping messy faces, singing “Wheels on the Bus,” and saving toddlers from a thing like a marble. Anyway—Johnny and I—we looked suspiciously at each other. It became a stare-down as he held that marble in his chubby, still-new hand and waited for a reaction from me. My eyebrows rose and my head lowered so as to draw my eyes down in worry and warning. “No, Johnny,” I said. “Give me the marble.” His eyebrows also rose, but in a mischievous way, and I knew then he wouldn’t listen to me. He put the marble in his mouth and made a dash for it.
But then I knew it! I knew it in the way two unlikely ideas converge to form a perfect and beautiful answer; one that makes you believe the whole world fits together like a puzzle, if only we were given some time to put it all together. In that moment, I knew exactly why I teach at Prep: I get to look all of my students in the eye every day. Every day. That’s it! On my best teaching days, I anticipate the potential, the growth, the transformation, and even the dangers—the marble in the mouth, so to speak—before it even happens. We, my colleagues and I, begin to know our students and the look in their eyes. You played video games for too long last night, didn’t you? You look upset today—what’s going on? Are you sure you should work double shifts at the weekend job when you’re already so busy? You look so happy today! Tell me what happened! –these all come from a knowingness of our students. Do you know how meaningful this is as a teacher? It is the stuff of magic in the world of education.
At Saint John’s Prep, I am gifted with these amazingly small class sizes and I am a part of a culture that intentionally focuses on accessible and sometimes even downright gutsy ways of living called Benedictine Values. And because of these two reasons especially, my colleagues and I get to become more than teachers. I see it every day. To be small enough is to know each student; to know each student is to look each in the eye with the same look of concern, suspicion, encouragement, disappointment, and most of all, love, that we look to in our own children. Teaching at Prep is not so unlike being a parent. When you’re a parent, it’s impossible to forget about your child, to not see them. It is the same at Saint John’s Prep.
We have a faculty member who teaches Spanish, yes, but also insists her students eat better and make sleep a priority. She pulls one or two aside, she encourages, she lectures, she points a finger in the way her students know is done through love. The students nod and smile at her, and know they are cared for. They are seen. We have a faculty member who teaches Physics, but also attends weekend events for our students while also somehow keeping up with his own children’s lives; a music show, an Eagle Scout ceremony, a Triple-A Awards ceremony in the Twins Cities, to name just a few. We have a faculty member who teaches middle school English, yes, but also cares enough about her students to counsel them through the difficult personal moments described in student writing—the really hard stuff of life: family estrangement, mental health struggles, loneliness. We have a faculty member who teaches English as a second or other language (ESOL), but who also hosts some of his students during long breaks because home is just too far away. He then becomes a cooking teacher, a bit of an etiquette advisor, and most of all, he and his wife become two adults who listen and care. We have a faculty member who teaches Environmental Science, but who is especially good at having those really difficult conversations about what a healthy adolescent relationship looks like—and what one doesn’t look like. For every faculty member at Prep, I could tell you the ways in which they guide and love like a parent.
I chased Johnny down and was able to pry the marble out of his mouth. I averted disaster, but also discovered why I teach at Prep; it encourages us to be teachers, yes, but more than that, to take on the role of compassionate guardian. Is there any greater vocation? Maybe you can understand, then, why I’m waiting for August 21st.
OUR TEACHERS ARE BEYOND ORDINARY.