I just had a birthday. Never mind which one. But I have reached an age when birthdays make me reflect on the past more than project into the future. Ten years ago I resigned a tenured college position to accept my current job as a prep school administrator. I have always said that there are two good motivations for becoming a teacher–love of the subject matter and love of helping others learn. These are obviously not mutually exclusive motives, but for most of my college career the love of subject predominated. The system works that way. One writes and studies and “keeps up with the field.” As a young man, I embraced this ethic wholeheartedly.
Now at the end of my career, I’m on the opposite pole. My job is to help students who have not adapted to school culture to learn or more accurately to figure out how to help their teachers help them. I was away at a conference several weeks ago when I had one of those moments that affirm one’s choices. I was checking my email in the midst of a session. (I know why they call them crackberries) Several teachers had suggested that a student who I’ll call Joseph (Not His Real Name) join our rather elite group of academic tutors.
I had worked closely with Joseph and remembered clearly the student who had entered our school. He did drugs, he didn’t pass courses, and was convinced he couldn’t graduate high school. His first months here he became so depressed we had to send him our for a psychiatric evaluation. He returned a zombie from too many medications. Working with our doctors and psychologists we attacked the depression and reduced the medication. Joseph received the tutoring he now volunteered to give. He was encouraged to attempt difficult work and praised when he succeeded. He also suffered the lack of privileges and the extra study halls that any failing student experiences.
We are a school based on the Twelve Steps. If I asked Joseph what helped him to become a student, he’d say something like, “I learned to pray” or “I have God in my life.” Now the brain research on the effects of prayer, mediation, or other mindful practice isirrefutable. Brains whose persons do these things tend to be quieter and focused. What ever effects the brain of Joseph may have experienced, the mind of Joseph has learned about a new world through the school’s teaching about god as you understand him. In that world he is not the center, he is given permission to succeed and because he has learned to trust in a higher power, he has learned to trust his compatriots.
My reflections on Joseph are my reflections on my gamble I took ten years ago. The process of getting here has been fun and here is a pretty good place.