Teaching Cultivates Gratitude –– Why Do We Teach & How Far Can it Reach? June 17 2015

Teaching Cultivates Gratitude –– Why Do We Teach & How Far Can it Reach?
Patrice Maynard

Most teachers of teens have had this experience: One of them might look you in the eye and say, “I will never be a teacher. Too much work!” This is age-appropriate behavior because in our teenage years, the yearning can be very strong to be out in the world. Staying inside a school building for one’s work seems like prison. Inwardly the youngster thinks, “You’ve got to be nuts to put up with us!”

There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “When I was seventeen my father was such an ignoramus I could barely stand to have him in the same room while discussing matters of import. When I turned twenty-one, I was impressed at how much the old man had learned in four years.” Over time, the words of good teachers (and parents, our first teachers) come back to inspire us. New meaning breaks upon our consciousness as we mature, and we smile and say, “Oh, that’s what that meant!” Life experience unlocks something inside us and the realization comes that our teachers actually knew things of importance. Perhaps something a teacher said dawns inwardly later as being very insightful about oneself, revealing understanding despite our teenage desire to hide our deepest selves!

Moving from complete aversion to the inspiration to become a teacher oneself can often be the result of this realization. When a meaning deepens or a new meaning opens up inside of us, it is usually accompanied by gratitude. Gratitude fills the soul as sunshine fills a day. We feel the warmth and commitment that teachers demonstrate, showing up each day no matter the difficulties. They enlighten us over long periods of time about things that might have been clouded or veiled at first. The connection between a teacher and a student lives on and on. Gratitude floods our hearts and souls at moments of realization like these.

Why We Teach
This gratitude then opens floodgates to a new view of the teacher as a giver of wisdom that only grew and blossomed years later. It might even feel purposeful, as if the teacher deliberately planted the seed so that it would grow specifically in one’s own consciousness to manifest later. Perhaps the teacher knew that this wisdom would bloom at precisely the moment when most needed.

Why? Why would a teacher care that much? Why did my teacher work so hard? Memories come rushing in, of driving by school on a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon, noticing the teacher’s classroom light still on or car in the school parking lot. Teenage ridicule may follow this, along with the knowledge that this teacher works overtime to prepare or grade or ponder.

With the release of wisdom locked inside old lessons, the thought comes, riding on the tails of gratitude, that the teacher really cared about the students, about being a good teacher, about the important empowering through knowledge. The old teenage judgment of “loser” is warmed into admiration, understanding, appreciation and gratitude.

In adulthood, we realize that caring is what made our teacher flourish, work more hours than most, and pursue a student for completed work or for a new idea in spite of rejection and affected indifference. This thought is watered and nourished by life experience, which opens new understanding like a rose in the sunlight of life’s grinding difficulties. Then another new thought dawns: inspiration. A flood of realization comes that teachers love what they do and love their students. There are many jobs in our world that demand only specific, often meaningless, activity. They are difficult or tedious without end or promise. They might be lucrative but drain the soul. By contrast, teaching as a profession is inspiring and it inspires others. Teaching changes people, changes ideas, changes attitudes, changes everything.

Once this realization occurs, it becomes clear that teaching might hold hidden rewards that outstretch low pay or constant criticism or the drag of those less inspired who might treat the vocation like a job. Beyond those inevitable turns of life with human beings, there stands endless promise. One can change the world one student at a time –– one young heart at a time.

To work at something meaningful is a gift. We learn deeply only with time and experience. And the profound possibility in all teaching is meaningful, indeed.

In the recent past, saying things like this has become unpopular. Teachers are the brunt of much slander. They are left with dry scores on digital reports to assess their work and their care of children. The bad experiences with a minority is allowed to –– even encouraged to –– dampen the reputation of the majority. This is not only a shame, it is untruthful. Anyone who has had a teacher who inspired goodness, tracked with interest individual development, saved that individual from his or her own folly –– cared, in other words –– knows this.

Such distortion is useful to some who might paint a world of inadequacy so that products can be sold to fix it. This image of teachers as eternally inadequate (“Those who can, do…”) is useful for political agendas that ignore or denigrate the vocational calling of teachers. It is also useful to enterprising industries who would make of education a world that forever needs help, needs equipment, needs pharmaceuticals to correct behavior, needs textbooks, needs software, needs curriculum, needs tests, needs new buildings, needs countless things that make money for these businesses. The image of lax teaching helps to sell these products. Fear drives us all as a culture to shore up the “inevitable” bad teaching with products that will solve everything.

Teaching is a high calling. It is done well by many striving individuals who care deeply and bring meaning to all they teach. Many young people still enter the profession because of this very caring and meaning, despite the damage being done to the sacred vocation of teaching. It’s inspiring to teach and to be taught well. It’s rewarding to affect change in young hearts and minds. It’s a privilege to work in a profession that allows for caring; well, no, that insists that caring be present. It’s cause for gratitude indeed.

Patrice Maynard is the Director of Publications and Development at the Research Institute for Waldorf Education (RIWE), which publishes resources for Waldorf teachers, literature for children, and helpful enrichment materials for parents and the wider Waldorf community. As Leader of Outreach and Development in the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America for nine years, she raised significant funds for research into the Waldorf approach and for programs to deepen the understanding of Waldorf education. From 1991 through 2004, she was a class teacher as well as a music teacher at Hawthorne Valley School in upstate New York; prior to that time she served on the founding board of the Merriconeag Waldorf School in Freeport, Maine.