“[W]e perceive that the great work of education is to inspire children with vitalising ideas as to every relation of life, every department of knowledge, every subject of thought; and to give deliberate care to the formation of those habits of the good life which are the outcome of vitalising ideas. In this great work we seek and assuredly find the cooperation of the Divine Spirit, whom we recognise, in a sense rather new to modern thought, as the supreme Educator of mankind in things that have been called secular, fully as much as in those that have been called sacred.”
Charlotte Mason (School Education, p. 173)
Just days after ending the school year, I took a morning walk on the beach. As I gathered the typical ocean treasures, various in type and beauty, I was struck by a few thoughts that gave birth to some ideas regarding reflection. Coupled with the fact that Pentecost Sunday had just passed, I began to ask myself where I missed God’s Spirit nudging me within the school day. Did I miss being actively aware of moments where God was offering my students and I a gift to enjoy and delight in our lessons?
My tangible treasures, which I gave attention to that sandy morning, were feathers, driftwood, and various kinds of shells. Why is it that we are drawn to the shells that are flawless in our judgment rather than the ones that are cracked or broken? Is there not beauty there? I had to ask myself where had my class preserved through hard and trying circumstances? Where was the beauty in those difficulties of adjusting schedules, tackling concepts, or just plain days when our mood directed our actions?
I glanced down and noticed my footsteps were imprinted in the sand where I had stepped. It was as if the Spirit said, “I do not show you so clearly the future plans you will walk in, but take time to celebrate and rejoice in where you have been.”
At the Eastern CMI Conference, Dr. Jennifer Spencer reminded us of this very idea called reflective practice. Giving ourselves time and space to do some introspective look at our day, our term, our school year. What worked well during our class day? What growth occurred? Where do I, as a teacher, need to grow in my understanding of a subject? How can I give time during my week to nurture my own love of learning? I think it best to give you clarity with a “living” example from my school year.
Last Fall, our school was blessed with an interesting phenomenon. It began one day as the children were playing outside and discovered several cicada shells. They delighted in bringing the various remains to show fellow students and teachers. Very naturally our school’s nature table grew with the collection: broken wings, empty shells and dead cicadas. This was not exactly what my natural history lesson was to be that week, but the gift of the cicadas was what I saw to receive. It wasn’t an interruption; it was a gift God had given for the children to observe, question, and wonder about. As the days went by, students began to discover more and more cicadas actually emerging from their shells. The insect would climb the tree and we began to schedule time for students to return outside to observe the drying of those delicate, green wings. This exploration and observation went on for weeks. Listening for the song of the cicada became part of the children’s day. Nature notebooks were brought out and curious minds sought out answers to questions. Older students and younger students alike shared this enthusiasm and it was amazing to watch this common, shared experience draw classrooms together.
What we call Nature is all Beauty and delight, and the person who watches Nature closely and knows her well, like the poet Wordsworth, for example, has his Beauty Sense always active, always bringing him joy.
Charlotte Mason, Ourselves (p. 42)
Now, what would have been missed if I was stuck in my agenda? Were not my lesson plans well made? Was this interruption something to insist me to draw students attention back to my ideas? Interruptions most always come with a choice: to see the Master Teacher redirecting me or me taking over the role of the Master Teacher. We all need the reminder that this feast of ideas will always be available, but does not always need to be feasted upon according to our own timetable. For me, a surprise occurred as I wrote some poetry due to the enrichment of the cicada. Something not in my natural bent yet child-like for me being a student under My Teacher. I have included it at the end of this article.
Looking back over the past school year, I recalled countless situations where I viewed interruptions as the enemy of my well-structured plans. I valued student’s productivity as how I measured my own worth as a teacher. The countless times I rushed a student to hurry up because we needed to move along to the next subject. The time a student had tears resulted from a disagreement with a classmate and I responded indifferently. It’s important to learn and grow from these reflections, praying for a posture of the heart that is gracious and always open to receive.
So, I challenge you to take some reflective time before you begin a new school year. Journal your thoughts, make time for reflective conversation with fellow teachers, pray earnestly for a teachable heart. My prayer is that I would grow more thoughtful in the planned and unforeseen moments of our school day. All the while knowing that the Divine Spirit is at work with and for me. If we desire to cultivate a true Education of Relationships, we must give value to the relationship between the teacher and child with intentionality and care.
Celebrate the gifts God has given, both big and small, and what HE will give to your coming school days.
The world is a great treasure-house full of things to be seen, and each new thing one sees is a new delight. Charlotte Mason (Ourselves, p. 29)
I saw new life emerge today
So strange and yet profound
To spend most of your life
In the deep, in the dark, in the ground
New life had beauty and even had wings
And color unlike the old
From within a shell all hard and brown
From the deep, from the dark, from the hole
Those large, dark eyes seemed to look through me
An invitation so eager to share
“Our Creator has beauty to draw forth from you
It is deep, life from the dark, trust in His care.”
That was not all I learned as I pondered the scene
And watched the insect climb
There’s a promise ahead, a journey above
Death buried deep, Light from the dark, New Life divine.
© Cathy Barrington, Teacher, Crestwood Day School, Birmingham, AL