Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sacred work

During this holiday season I have begun to wonder if the the work of educators - teachers, administrators, school secretaries, school bus drivers, preschool teachers, school food service employees, the tech staff  - is sacred?

Sacred not in the religious sense obviously. But sacred in the sense that the work is highly valued and worthy of respect.

I would say that the work is sacred.

Those that choose to work in schools have chosen to a life that will influence children and young adults. In a school, the job does not matter. Students look at all the adults in the building to pick up cues on how to live their life, how to treat other people, and, most importantly, the value that education plays in their still developing world.

Schools are more than just places that children and young adults go to be safe for seven hours a day. Schools are more than just places that children and young adults go to be with their friends so that their parents can be about the important work of the world.

Schools are communities. As in any community, children and young adults learn the values of that community. Values such as the importance of hard work and working with and for others. Values such as not giving up and finding different ways to solve problems. Values such as supporting each other and not walking away when someone struggles.

Within the school community students learn the values associated with learning. These are the values that help students find their passion, develop their sense of their place in the world, and understand that they have something to contribute.

Everyone in a school helps students learn these valuable lessons.

It could be the bus driver who, as the first person most students see from the school each day, communicates, through their words and deeds, the importance of each student. The drivers recognize their responsibility to keep students safe but also their responsibility to help students learn to navigate life on a school bus.

One might say that the school bus driver is just a school bus driver. But, to me, that is not the case. School bus drivers understand that the twenty or thirty minutes a student spends on the bus can impact that student's day. The school bus is not just a mode of transportation. It is also, or it should also be, a place where students apply lessons they are learning about being proactive, solving problems, resolving differences, and looking out for each other.

It could be the food service worker - the lunch "lady" - who sees that a student is not eating and inquires why. Food service workers are busy, yet many take time to notice students, say hello, ask about brothers and sisters. These school employees are not just serving food, they are part of the culture that schools build that communicates to the students that they matter and that there are adults who will mentor and model how to navigate the world.

The secretaries often see and hear students at their most vulnerable - when they are sick or when they are hurt. The way the secretary treats those students in those times of stress teaches those students lessons that they will not forget.

The work that occurs in schools is more than just important. It is a sacred trust between parents, the community, and the school. The community and parents agree to support schools with the understanding that those who work in schools will honor the children who attend. Those that work in schools understand that we must help students learn the knowledge and skills that they will need to live in a world that we will not. The future that our children live into will be lived without us.

So the job that those of us who work in schools accept is the job of preparation. We know that our job is to prepare our students with knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will help them continue to improve the world.

While those of us who work in schools know that the future does not depend on us, it does anticipate that we will not fail. Parents, the community, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends all play a huge part in the development of our students. But the work that goes on in schools is essential.

Those that work in schools understand that we cannot afford to let down those who come through our doors every day.

Does that make our work sacred?

I believe that it does!

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