Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's Not About You

Last Friday, October 29 at 8:34 p.m., my wife gave birth to our first child, Elizabeth Anne Zelenka. Three things occurred to me at this moment:
1. There must be a benevolent God
2. I've never been more in love with my wife, Emily and
3. My life will never be the same.

While I won't bore you with the details of my reaffirmed faith in an Almighty, Loving Creator God, or how my love for my wife intensified because of the strength and love she showed throughout the labor process, I will focus on how my life, at that moment, was forever changed.

The night of Elizabeth's birth was a prime example of how my life is no longer about me. As I'm sure all parents can attest, that night was filled with tests and check-ups and heating lamps and measurements and inconsolable cries. In fact, our night was so jammed packed with activity that it was well after 3 a.m. on Saturday morning before mom, dad and baby finally got to sleep. The next day came just as quickly as the previous night was long, by 6 a.m. the Zelenka family was up once again and tending to her many hospital visitors.

Our 2nd "night" as parents was just as sleepless. But, even in a completely sleep exhausted state at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, holding on to my frantically crying daughter, I could almost hear God whisper to me, "Mike, it's not about you anymore." I knew I had to put my own need for sleep aside and instead focus on Elizabeth.

Our days and nights since our three night, two day stint in the hospital have calmed significantly, and Elizabeth, like her mother, holds the key to my heart. I absolutely adore her. So, even though my sleeplessness (and cluelessness) has dwindled, this idea of my life not being about me anymore has lingered.

During my prayer and reflection time over the past four days I have also come to sense a connection between my musing on fatherhood and my other vocation as a Catholic educator: "Mike, it's not about you."

I issue this same message to all Catholic educators-- teachers, administrators, support staff, even parents-- everywhere: "It's not about you."

Teaching must be centered on the student. Gone are the days of a taught curriculum, where the teacher merely covers the material, with little to no regard for individual student performance (that's what Bell Curves are for, right?). Instead, students must learn the material at hand. The central focus of a classroom cannot be the teacher/teaching; it must be the student/learning.

This approach to education puts aside many "old school" tactics: teachers lecturing from a podium and students passively taking notes, punitive pop quizzes meant to "get back" at students, failed tests being dismissed as a lack of student preparation ("I taught the material all last week!") and covering material from a textbook in straight succession from the introduction on page xiv to page 367.

The needs, backgrounds, abilities and temperaments of students must take precedence over the desires of the teacher, or any adult in the educational setting. Teachers must overcome tiredness, angry parents, riffs with colleagues and administrators, or a distaste for a particular subject for the good of student learning.

Time on task has a huge impact on student learning-- it must be maximized and not wasted on an abundance of study halls, homework time during class, or parties for every "holiday". The dignity and value of the student as a child of God must always be maintained, especially during disciplinary situations. Teachers must identify the ways that students, individually, best learn and differentiate their instruction so as to touch on these many and varied multiple intelligences. Lessons need to be analyzed, reorganized, and re-taught based on student performance. Each and every student must be challenged yet given the necessary supports to succeed.

When it comes to education, adults (teachers/administration/support staff and parents alike) must put aside their own egos and focus on the good of the child(ren). Because, much like being a parent, as a teacher it's not about, and can't ever be about, you.