I love back-to-school time. Even though I'm no longer a student, I want it all: the new notebooks, pens and pencils, even a fun lunch box. Fresh socks, new clothes, new haircut, new me. And I love all the questions: Are you taller, is your hair longer, are you quieter, stronger, smarter?
Let other people have New Year's Day to mark a time for change. But every September, students have a new school year to reinvent themselves and start fresh.
Do teachers have that same right?
I remember a time when my daughter called from her boarding school to tell me about a new teacher who was not performing her duties well. This wasn't the first call I'd received telling about this teacher's misdeeds. But this was clearly the most blatant mistake she had made. The problem was, not only had she done something wrong (I don't even remember what it was), but she was so defensive that she wouldn't even meet the students halfway in admitting it.
My daughter was outraged, and, at first, I was, too. But something stopped me from reacting. Then, in my effort to reinforce her need to respect her teachers, my thought moved to the other extreme - "the teacher is always right." So, taking a moment to be quiet, I prayed. A line of a hymn I love, "So all the merciful, mercy shall find," was the answer I received (see "Christian Science Hymnal," No. 278).
I knew the other kids tended to follow my daughter. She was a leader, one of the officers of her grade, and when she felt passionately about something, she was very convincing. It wouldn't take much to get this teacher in trouble. But that was not a solution. So, quietly I told that to my daughter. She appreciated my acknowledgment that she was probably right and the teacher wrong. And she enjoyed hearing me tell her how effective her leadership abilities were. So it was a bit of a shock for her to hear that she had a choice here.
"You could make this teacher feel so badly that perhaps she leaves her post at this school. Or, you could help this person become a better teacher and know that you have really helped someone." "Oh, Mom," was her first reply. But I continued, "I know you think that she is the grown-up, she is the teacher, so she should know better. Evidently she doesn't. But sometimes kids can know more than a grown-up and behave more maturely than someone who should know better."
My daughter agreed to speak privately with the teacher and to be a support to her in front of the other students. We agreed that this was really a way of doing unto others what we would have them do unto us, which is often called the Golden Rule (see Matt. 7:12). No wonder it is golden! It's a perfect measuring stick for our actions.
At the private meeting, the teacher was relieved and grateful to realize that the other students wanted to help her. Within a short time, this teacher became well-loved, and when she accepted a promotion that entailed moving to another school, everyone was genuinely sorry she was leaving.
My daughter took this lesson on her life journey. For her, it was a letting go of the notion that just because someone ought to know what is right, they will always do the right thing. We all can help each other along the way.
The opposite can apply, too. People in authority can try to see each person they are working with as capable of change. I remember hearing of someone who made a mistake, had a bad day or days, and then for about a year her supervisor would bring it up whenever she wanted to make a point. Finally, the worker asked, "Have I behaved this way today?" "No," the supervisor admitted. "In fact, when was the last time I behaved that way?" the person asked. The supervisor couldn't even remember. "So, let's move on from that to make our discussions more constructive." My friend was never "reminded" of that experience again.
This year, walk back into that school or job as the "new you" - the good person you most want to be.
Each succeeding year unfolds
wisdom, beauty, and holiness.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)