Monica Kowalski, Ph.D., serves as a faculty member in the ACE Teaching Fellows and Mary Ann Remick Leadership programs. She writes about how we must focus on doing small things with love to better equip ourselves to face the larger challenges in our lives.
As a faculty member for ACE, it is important to me to stay connected to K-12 Catholic school classrooms. I like to stay up to date on current best practices by visiting schools to observe and conduct research. I also love volunteering in my own children’s classrooms to help facilitate group work, monitor centers, and assist with journal writing. But this year, the teacher did not have any classroom volunteer opportunities, so I decided to fulfill my school volunteer obligation in another way—by signing up to spend a few hours a month in lunch lady land!
With my hair pulled back and latex gloves covering my freshly washed hands, I began to fill trays with pepperoni calzones and scoops of green beans and mandarin oranges. I smiled at each child as most remembered to utter “thanks” before grabbing their chocolate milk and heading to their tables.
This isn’t so bad, I thought to myself. Then the children began to finish their meals and bring their trays back up to the kitchen window, and I was directed to my next duty area: drying lunch trays. I had no idea how tedious and thankless this job would be. It seems like such a simple task to dry a tray, but believe me—it was grueling work. Somewhere around the time I was drying the millionth red lunch tray with my aching fingers, with the loud whirring of the dish sanitation machine behind me, I began to pray.
I prayed in gratitude for the adults, both cafeteria employees and daily volunteers, who made it possible for my children and their friends to purchase healthy meals in their school each day and ensured that no child in the building went hungry. I prayed in acknowledgment of the new perspective I gained about how much effort is involved in the daily lunch process at the school and vowed to never take it for granted. And I thought of one of my favorite saints, St. Therese, the Little Flower, whose example teaches me to always do small things with great love.
I dried those last trays with all of the love in my heart.
Our days are busy and filled with many important tasks, but sometimes it is the smallest deeds that most require our endless zeal. As teachers and school leaders, there are many opportunities to exude zeal in the ways you deal with the big and exciting responsibilities of our work. But there are just as many times when your inbox never gets to zero, the voicemail light is blinking on your phone, there is a line of people standing outside your office door, and a mountain of paperwork threatens to suck the zeal out of you.
If you get a chance, I recommend you roll up your sleeves, put on a hairnet, and spend some time in the school cafeteria. Pray a little . . . serve a little . . . and remember why you are there in the first place. Find your zeal in the little things, and do them with great love.