Tomorrow marks 3 weeks left in Indonesia. While I am unbelievably excited to get home and see the people I miss, breathe clean air, climb a tree, and eat Chipotle, it will also be hard to leave. There is so much that needs done before I leave – the school year must be wrapped up (teachers – and English teachers especially – I know you feel me on this one!), my house needs packed and cleaned, you’re-leaving-the-country paperwork needs to be taken care of. We have our last homeroom get-together to be had, our last student council event to be planned, our last coaches meeting to be attended. On the other side of things, a place of dwelling in America needs to be found, paperwork needs to be done for the new job, summer plans need to be made.
And on top of all of this, I am leaving a lot of people that I have grown to love. And moving to the opposite side of the world.
Now more than ever, the question arises:
What is important? Where do I invest?
A few weeks ago, my mom shared with me a story about my younger brother that answers this question beautifully.
As you prepare to be challenged by a 12-year-old, let me give you a quick background on my family:
We love to win.
It’s just something in the Schaeffer blood. Ice cream and winning, not necessarily in that order, are among the most important things in life. My father has instilled in us a deep love for both.
And this love for winning can bring lots of good! In addition to the highly entertaining rivalries and memories that have resulted from this, it often points to achievement. We don’t want to give up! My siblings have accomplished all sorts of neat things due to the drive to do well. Where I see it tripping me up, though, is when it becomes the main goal. When it becomes more important than people.
A co-worker put it well recently while we were casually sharing important life lessons with our students. “Just because you prove you’re right doesn’t mean you win.” Sometimes focusing on achievement means neglecting or stepping on the people around us.
Back to my brother. Although he appropriately loves ice cream, Andrew’s real passion in life is baseball. Since he was three, that is the activity in which he has invested the majority of his time and energy. And he’s good! He plays on a travel baseball team and does a pretty darn good job of it.
Recently, they were playing in a tournament and Andrew was up to bat. The catcher let a pitch pass him, and the opposing coach began yelling across the field, berating him. Andrew, as the batter, was at the place as all of this took place. Before taking the next pitch, he turned and told the catcher that it was ok, that those things happen to everyone, that he just needed to keep his chin up and keep on playing.
Andrew wanted to win that game. He wanted to do his best, and he worked toward that.
But he didn’t let that stop him from loving people.
It’s not an either/or questions. It’s not accomplishments or love. It’s not working hard or having friends. It’s not winning or being soft. Both can absolutely co-exist. We just can’t let a to-do list or a desire to win stop us from seeing people. Stop us from loving people.
Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters.
It is good to strive for excellence. It is good to want to do well. It is good to work hard toward things. But we must be careful not to focus on these things alone, blocking out the people in our peripheral vision.
As I finish here at SPH, I want to finish strong. I want to invest in people. And sometimes, as a teacher, that means taking the extra hours to give good feedback on students’ assignments. It means staying after school to focus on that new unit I decided it would be a great idea to do at the end of the year. It means organizing everything for the people that come after me. That is one way to invest in these kids.
But it also means putting my pile of papers away during lunch and laughing with the students in my classroom. It means taking the time to sit and talk with a student that is struggling, whether that be academically or otherwise. It means patiently working through the silly requests that may presently seem like they don’t matter.
Because really, those are the reasons that I love teaching. Those are the things that I look back on and remember. Those are investments in people.
And that is worth it.