The Quaker philosopher and educator, Douglas Van Steere (d. 1995), tells the story of the Jewish philosopher and educator, Martin Buber (d. 1965), who broke the silence at a Quaker Meeting House, and said, “The greatest thing that any man can do for another is to confirm the deepest thing he has within him.” Steere takes this a step further: The greatest thing a teacher can do is confirm the deepest thing a student has within him or her.
This insight is particularly meaningful as we enter Catholic Schools Week. Chances are, each of us has had a teacher who confirmed what was deep inside us, in our center. This teacher saw clearly in us what we only had glimpsed and so simply couldn’t be sure about. It may have been, or even now is, decisive in our life. As Steere puts it, “The teacher did not put the deepest thing there. It was there already. But he confirmed it.”
Are you one of those teachers? If so, maybe this is at the core of your educational vocation. Putting the student first, a kind of mantra in Lasallian and Catholic education, requires precisely this kind of seeing what is in the “depths” of the student. But it isn’t enough to see it. Affirming it is at the heart of this vocation. In a recent interview, Sarah Hunt, a graduate of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory (Milwaukie, Oregon), now an actress on Broadway and in television, gave tribute to her drama teacher. That teacher was the late Ernie Casciato, who taught English, speech and drama at La Salle for nearly 40 years. She said, “I was able many times to say thank you for seeing me before I could see myself and for giving me the confidence to trust myself.”
Catholic Schools Week could hardly be better placed in the calendar. At about this time in the academic year a certain tiredness sets in. The students can be a little distracted, a little more distant, maybe even resistant. It colors the classroom and scents the air. For the educator there can be a heaviness. The books and the papers and the activities seem to weigh more. That mercenary resolve we brought to the first semester is diminishing.
So, it is in this wintry and dormant season that we need to celebrate the nobility of this call, that of affirming the deepest thing in another. And, I should add, to celebrate the community we belong to. In Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons,” Act I, Thomas More gives unsolicited advice to Richard Rich who yearned for a career in the English court. “Why not be a teacher?” More asks. “You’d be a fine teacher. Perhaps a great one.” “And if I was who would know it?” Rich replies. “You, your pupils, your friends, God; not a bad public,” More responds.
Why not celebrate all of this by reaching out this week to one of the people who affirmed the deepest thing in you? Could there be a better way of celebrating Catholic education or of renewing your resolve to do the same?
By Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC
Catholic Schools Week will take place January 30 – February 5 and provides an opportunity for schools to celebrate the impact of Catholic education through the theme “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” Follow Facebook and Twitter during Catholic Schools Week for highlights on each daily theme. Share your highlights using #Lasallian and #CSW22.