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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Teacher and Mother

These are two terms I've been pondering, and you'll never hear the depths of my ponderment. Yet tonight, I was inspired to write a few words, in my typical style, thanks to the description of teaching sixth-graders by Snoring Scholar.

Many moons ago, a great-uncle (Eternal rest grant unto him, oh Lord) told me that I should become a teacher and offered to pay for my college education, any school I wanted to attend, if I would become a teacher. I refused. I want to kick myself sometimes for he didn't offer a loan; he offered a grant and a promise, but I felt that if I accepted his generous offer I would be "owned" by him and thus not free to make my own decisions. So now I rest upon my own decisions and where has it got me?

Ironic, that's what it is; seeking entry to a MA program in Pastoral Theology, with the ultimate goal of becoming a teacher.

Amazing. It's only taken me half my life to figure out what my uncle, whom I'd never met in person, to figure out in a very short period of time, sight unseen. He was uncanny that way.

But God will not be denied, and no matter what we do, He leads us to where He wants us to be, whether we realize it or not.

When I was in high school, my first instinct was children, so my first job was working in a school-age day care and as a chaperone for various field trips through the local Community Center. It was a great job!

I had a good mother, and she must have taught me something about discipline and good behavior, because I did not tolerate bad behavior. I remember one child in particular: Jeremy. He was a bully, he was out of control, and in some ways, he was picked on and rejected. And because he was always in trouble, I was always in contact with him in some way.

I wouldn't let him get away with anything, and that's what this kid needed. I remember one day in which he had picked up a bat and was swinging it in large arcs around him, his own personal version of "keep away". He was in attack mode, and nearly hit several of the other children with the bat. They only wanted to play baseball. He only wanted...well, something undefined. He was raging against...nothing at all. Everyone was confused.

I walked up behind him, grabbed him in a bear-type hug to pin his flailing arms, my co-worker took the bat from him, and I dragged this kid into another room while he fought me threatening to "beat me up." I didn't care. At least he wouldn't hit anyone with a bat.

I had to keep holding on to him because he was still fighting, stil threatening. When we were finally in another room and he calmed down, I let him go. Jeremy stayed where he was. We were both silent. After awhile I told him that this type of behavior would not be tolerated, we had a short talk, and when I felt he was calm enough, we rejoined the group.

This kind of scenario played out a lot. I don't know why, but I was always the one to intervene and remove him from the situation he had caused.

When we were out and about with the kids on walks, on mini-field trips, what have you, it was common for one child or another to want to hold my hand. (It was always a big deal to hold the hand of the teacher or aide!). Nothing new, and always it was the usual suspects. One day, I remember standing on a bridge at a nature center or something and a child grabbed my right hand. I thought nothing of it, just held that hand. A few moments later, I looked down, and it was Jeremy!

He had never before approached any of us in this gesture of security. He had always remained aloof, always the bully. But he was softening, he was calming down, and I was amazed to see that he was the child who wanted to hold my hand.

I was very deeply touched and remain so to this day.

All I did was provide gentle discipline, set limits, and recognize his dignity. I only did for him what my mother would have done for me. I loved him as I was taught to love. I was only 16; I knew nothing of parenthood or teaching, but the incident proves that we carry out what we are taught, and if we are raised correctly, it bears fruit not only within us, but within others.

Mom was not just a mother, but she was a teacher, and that's what she raised me to be whether I realized that or not.

A couple years later, my senior year of High School, I saw a flier for an after school program looking for teachers. $10.00 per hour! I was a very good student and loved Spanish, so I decided I wanted to teach Spanish. I called the number, met with the program director, and she was thrilled with me. I had a lesson plan, I told her what I wanted to do, and she was shocked; most of the prospective teachers (all high school students) had come in with a general idea and no plan. I came in telling HER what was to be done. No problem; I was hired.

I taught at two different schools, 5th and 6th graders.

The first school was a very wealthy school, and the kids saw this class as a very social program. Fine. I tailored to their sensibilities and we did a lot of hands-on stuff; projects, Spanish commands requiring actual action on their part, etc. They weren't there to learn, they were there to play, so I made sure they got to do both. After all, I was a teacher; they had to learn SOMETHING!

One child in particular was a problem; every class has one, so one day, I had to take him aside. We had a little chat in the hallway, came to an understanding, then rejoined the class. It wasn't our last hallway visit. In fact, in each class, it became habit for me to say, "Ryan! Hall!" And out we'd go.

He wasn't a bad kid. He was just out of control, but when the limits were set and emphasized, and he was allowed some kind of activity, he did fine.

The next school was in a low-to-working class neighborhood, and these kids really wanted to learn! They didn't want to do projects; they wanted to do the real stuff, so at the end of the first day, they were conjugating verbs! They amazed me. I hope they are all fluent today not only in Spanish, but other languages now. I had only 2 days per week for 3 weeks with them; I doubt I had much impact.

I enjoyed it but it was a lot of work and I swore I didn't want to be a teacher, but in looking back, I am realizing that I might actually have been good at it.

Jump ahead a few years. I worked at a mental health facility for adolescents. I was fascinated by the more difficult cases (I'm better with smaller groups, more intense stuff), and ended up as regular staff on the locked, high-security unit. Needless to say, I got beat up a lot. Some of these kids were quite violent.

But I was consistent. They knew what was allowed and what was not allowed. They knew what to expect from me, and I learned to hold them responsible for their actions and choices. I learned to set limits and to follow those limits.

And you know what? Those were my kids. They became my kids. I was only 20, but those adolescents were "mine" and I was very protective of them. Eventually I realized that I was more of a mother to them than their own mothers had been...and that scared me so much that I swore I would never be a mother. I became irrationally terrified that I'd screw up my own kids just as badly as some of these unseen parents had messed up theirs.

God has a sense of humor. No, I'm not married, and I have no children...not biologically, anyway.

Just recently, though, I had an insight.

This year, I began teaching RCIA. I'm a fledgling teacher, I have a ton to learn, and as I am now taking a grad-level theology course I am also realizing how hampered I am by what I don't know. Sometimes this is frustrating. I've also had some sensitive questions thrown my way, sincere questions pertaining to the faith and spirituality, and I don't always know how to answer. But I am keenly aware that how I live my life is a witness to others.

Then, the other day in Adoration, it hit me; I am a Mother. Just as I have prayed to be a woman after the heart of Mary, so I have become, in a way I never expected.

From the cross, Jesus said to John, "Behold your mother", and to Mary, "Behold your son."

Mary was a woman alone without a husband; we can only surmise that Joseph had died and she had no other famliy because Jesus would not have done what he did if she had other children or a husband. He was providing for his Mother, and his disciple would honor the request. It was a legal contract, and one of love.

John took her in, and Mary served all of the Apostles as their Mother on earth, just as she is now our Mother.

What am I? I am a woman without a family. I have no one to provide for me. So what did Jesus do? He took me in, brought me to my parish, and gave me my home. He gave me my parish family, my spiritual fathers, and set me to work....teaching.

I'm quite certain Mary was a teacher even in those years, as well as a mother; the two roles cannot be divorced from one another.

Now I have to wonder; can teaching be divorced from motherhood? When I consider that my students are catechumans and candidates for the Church, and I realize that, while another woman runs both Faith Formation and RCIA, I am the only regular teacher for RCIA in a team of men. I am fully dedicated only to RCIA, nothing else. These, then are not only my students, but spiritual children, because it is my job to help them learn our faith.

The women of the Church are mothers to others; I have other spiritual mothers within this parish, and it's a natural progression for me to be a mother to others. And yet I'm a teacher. Something I didn't expect or realize, but it's happened.

God has an amazing sense of humor, and even when we try to run from our true vocations, God finds a way to bring us back, such that we think its our choice. How he must chuckle at our posturings!

Here I am, a single woman, somehow both a teacher and a mother; feeling completely unequipped for either. But it's not the "feeling" that defines us, it is the reality.

To all my spiritual chilren I pledge my prayers and my best efforts. And to all of my readers, I ask for your prayers; not so much for me but for those God has placed under my keeping! And please pray for those who guide me; they have a very difficult job!


Simply Sister Mary said...

You AMAZE ME! Your inisghts are SOOO HUGE. It took 10 years of consecrated Relgious Life for me to even consider the implications of being a spiritual mother ... and 10 years after those initial insights, I still don't think I "get" it as well as you! EXCELLENT post!

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: Ditto.

Anyone can be a mother, yes even men have mothering abilities. You don't have to have children to use it.

I am the "daughter" of many mothers. Many of the women in my mother's circle adopted me after my Mom's death. I think and refer to them as my Mother's. Several of them call me daughter. There relationship is so important to me.

Sanctus Belle said...

Thank you for that beautiful post. I read every word and your story and witness is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Another beautiful post!

Adoro said...

Thank you, everyone.

I'm pretty sure they aren't MY insights, though...if they resonate, they have to come from God. He's a pretty good teacher himself. :-)