“You’re an ACE teacher?!” one student exclaimed during a brief chat after her soccer game. “All the ACE teachers are so nice!”
I’ve met most of the people who deserve that shout out, the people who have paved my way into an automatic positive repertoire: Imani Bunn, Andrew Jansen, Allie Griffith, Sam Lobo. It extends further than that, too. It extends to every ACEr, every little cog in the great big ACE machine, dedicated towards bringing Christ to the students of Catholic schools, day in and day out. But what exactly should I take from this student's words – “so nice”?
Perhaps the greatest insight I gained this past year of teaching dealt with my understanding of the relationship between kindness (or “niceness”) and love. After teaching a lesson on Venn diagrams last spring, I’m going to do something unconventional and throw a couple of them in this reflection:
Last summer, I would have considered love to be a very deep kindness. Love was, in essence, just being really, really, really nice. It was showering someone with extra compliments, significantly going out of one’s way to help another, bringing joy and a deep sense of caring to the beloved. This summer, after one year of teaching, the relationship between love and kindness has taken on an entirely new meaning for me. Love isn’t a deep kindness; rather, kindness is an aspect of love. It’s one of many aspects.
There were many times this semester I experienced love without kindness. Take the time I called Jeffrey’s dad, for instance. Jeffrey pleaded me not to call home, but I needed to because his behavior wasn’t changing, and I had warned him of the consequences the previous week. Take the time I turned Aaron and Matthew into administration for cheating. Take the time I argued with Ben about whether or not he should go to college because he had talent and grit. Take the time the school’s teacher coach, told me straight up: “That lesson was awful. Here are some things you need to do better.”
Love isn’t always tied up with a nice bow and a cheerful smile. This past year, I found out that true love can hurt. It can take a stab at one’s pride, it can argue, it can discipline. If I was a deep kind to Jeffrey, I wouldn’t have called home because that would have been easier for him (and, quite frankly, easier for me). If I was a deep kind to Ben, I would have nodded along with him and said he was making the right decision by entering the workforce right after high school. If my teacher coach was a deep kind to me, there are fifty things I’d still be doing – incorrectly – in my classroom. Love can, and at times should, be upfront. As Aquinas said, love wills and actively pursues the good of the beloved – even if it’s at the expense of the lover or at the expense of “kindness.” Love means telling a student when they are more, when they can be more. Love means accepting when others tell me I am more, I can be more.
I’d like to conclude with a brief anecdote from last year. I think it is the perfect embodiment of what it means to love and to be an ACE teacher. In the winter, I helped Jack Schaefer coach a 1st and 2nd grade basketball team. Throughout the practice, the players presented Jack with a variety of management challenges, yet he dealt with each one with extreme poise and loving discipline.
One player that stood out was a young girl with a tough home life and an attitude that sent her storming out of practice in rage more often than not. One practice, which was particularly difficult for her temper, left her in tears with her arms crossed stubbornly on the sidelines at the end of practice. She refused to talk to anyone. When kids were getting picked up from practice and I was making sure everyone had rides back home, I looked over at her. Truly I think this memory will be forever etched in my memory.
Jack Schaefer was sitting right next to her, and she was looking right at him through tears as he talked. Her head was nodding, and though still agitated, it was obvious how much respect this 7-year-old had for my housemate. There was no doubt he was talking to her about something along the lines of composure or respect or what it means to be a teammate. When I looked back a little while later, he gave her a fist-bump and they practiced spin moves until her mom showed up to the gym. Jack stayed late to wait.
That is what it means to be an ACE teacher. That is what it means to love, beyond just being “so nice.” In one little moment that represents such a breadth of things, Jack loved her by coaching her in basketball and in life, even if it meant forcing her to sit on the sidelines for discipline’s sake. Jack loved me, a community member, by giving me an example to follow and pushing me to be better. Jack loved Christ by acting as his hands and feet in that moment. I can’t sum it up any better than that.
That’s the ACE teacher I want to be as I start this new school year. I won’t be perfect, and words are far too idealistic on a piece of paper. However, I want to love with kindness but also beyond kindness. I want to remember at the end of a long and frustrating day that that’s when my efforts matter the most, and there is no greater gift given or received than being – if only a little bit – Christ’s hands and feet.
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