Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sowing my (Quaker) oats

I'm teaching at a Quaker school this year. On the one hand, it's like coming home--I attended a Quaker middle school, so I was used to Meeting for Worship, striving for simplicity, "peaceful resolution to conflicts" and all that jazz.

However, just like going from attending a Jesuit school to teaching in one, I'm finding that when you preach, what you practice suddenly makes a lot more sense--simply by virtue of the fact that you're constantly examining your mindset in the classroom. How do I impart Quaker values to my students? How do I exhibit these values myself? How do they imbue my teaching?

One of the main principles of the Society of Friends is finding "that of God in everyone." Easy to say, tough to do. But at one of our first new faculty orientations, a speaker told us, "You were all brought here because of the light we saw in you. It is our hope and expectation that you will strive to find the same light in the students you teach." A veteran teacher shared that when she approaches a difficult parent-teacher conference, she often reminds herself of this challenge. "I try to remember that these parents are honestly doing the very best they can with what they have," she said. "Maybe I don't agree, but that's not for me to judge. It's my job to find a way to work within that framework."

Us newbies recently gathered again, with a month or so of school under our belts, to check in and discuss how we saw Quakerism being played out here. I shared what struck me about a recent faculty meeting. We were discussing some senior boys who were being, well...typical senior boys. The conversation started getting a bit heated, but our director stepped in with a challenge: "I hear what you all are saying. But I need to ask you all to look for the good in these young men as well. Let's try to find what will work for them, to make them the best versions of themselves they can be." There was an audible silence in the room, as everyone took a breath and reminded themselves to find the light in these boys. And the process of actively looking through a new lens, I have seen some glimmers since.

It's a good reminder to look for the light in others not just at a cozy little Quaker school, but in the real world as well. Honestly, isn't everyone doing the best they can with what they have? That may not fit our definition of "best," but who are we to judge?