At the beginning of each school year I enjoy hosting lunches for each of our eighth grade advisory groups so that I can connect with our oldest students in a smaller group setting as they embark on their last year in our school. At these lunches I ask each group if anyone has any questions or suggestions for me. At today’s lunch one student asked me how long I have taught. There were looks of disbelief around the table when I mentioned that my first teaching job started in the fall of 1971. The looks were understandable since that year is three lifetimes ago for our eighth graders.
Coincidentally, I had recently counted how many school years I have enjoyed as student, teacher, or administrator. It’s well past 50 years and could be even higher were I to count some years when I had oversight responsibilities for a group of Jesuit high schools in a particular region. I did not do this tally in order to pat myself on the back for my durability and staying power but rather to savor the gratitude I still felt as I began this year at All Saints’. I am graced to have spent so many years in environments I love and that I find deeply enriching and engaging.
That in turn led me to reflect on something from that first teaching assignment, which took place at a Jesuit high school in Kansas City. One of my colleagues there was a jovial Jesuit priest who at that point had been teaching Latin at the school for several decades. Whenever anyone remarked about something that happened at school on a given day, the priest would chuckle and utter the following: “It happens every year!” I found myself annoyed by that response, and I finally figured out the reason. The priest, who clearly had admirable qualities of persistence and commitment, apparently did not embrace the newness- in fact the uniqueness- of every year. From his perspective he had replicated the same year dozens of time, and in that approach is something unsettling and unsatisfactory.
So ultimately it matters less that this is my fiftieth+ school year than that 2014-15 is the one and only year that each of us at All Saints’ have been gifted. If I do not embrace this year as precious and unique, I shortchange my eighth grade lunch companions and everyone else at our school. If “it happens every year” is my default response, then I shall have ignored the special possibilities that this year offers.
Until next time…