by Tom Henihan
Just prior to the academic year ending, I had occasion to visit a number of schools for different end-of-year activities and awards ceremonies.
The kids, universally in good spirits, enjoy the latitude that comes with a break in routine and the anticipation of the summer holidays ahead.
In spite of the effort and coordination involved in staging these events, teachers and school staff also appeared to be slowly letting go of the disciplinarian facade, being more easygoing with the kids, and relaxed and gregarious in dealing with one another.
This period is a good time for everyone involved, but it is also daunting for kids who are moving from elementary to junior high and changing schools the next semester.
While there is the natural allure of moving onto to a more mature situation, there is also the reticence to leave what is familiar for a strange environment that is more demanding socially and academically.
However, despite the serious trepidation in leaving what is familiar and safe, everything will change radically just a few weeks into the first semester of the new school year.
When kids have acclimatized to their new environment, grown familiar with the pecking order of the hallways and schoolyard and the more rigorous demands in the classroom, quickly the idea of returning to the environment they were reluctant to leave a few months earlier would be unthinkable.
In a relatively short transition, they abandon old affiliations, friendships and interests, and discover that they have no use now for the conditions and circumstances without which they recently thought they could not live.
It is an initiation, a rite of passage from one level of experience to another, one role in life to another. It compels the young person to grow into a conscience, social individual, moving gradually from the unconditional world of a child and slowly becoming equipped to contend with the conditions of the world as an adult.
This same process continues through much of life; leaving the familiar terra firma and pushing out to learn and accomplish new things. Whether it is in education, sports, science, politics etc. the process is the same, loosening one’s grip on what is familiar or safe and taking a leap of fate into the unknown.
So these first experiences are seminal, they can leave an indelible imprint on an individual, either positive or negative, so the role of a teacher as mentor and guide is a pivotal role. It requires that teachers have insight, inspiration, resolve, kindness, and a passion for the subjects they teach to the child.
No one should approach the profession of teaching lightly, without a sense that it is indeed a vocation.
It is never enough to just impart a rote lesson plan or treat education as only a means to an end.
It is important to point out to children that education is something that has its own intrinsic value and to instill in them a healthy and comprehensive curiosity.
It is necessary to stir the spirit of a child with an appetite for learning and for life and the best method teachers can use to accomplish this end is to continue cultivating these qualities in themselves.