Here we are again at the end of the Write6x6 journey. This season has been special for me. This is the first time I broke from the established narratives and the first time I have put real thought into comparing the two major aspects of my life, teaching and volunteerism.
That comparison evolved as I wrote it. I entered this process with very clear objectives and topics in mind. Although the core of what I wanted to get across remained, the examples, depth, and analysis ended up being different than I anticipated.
This process has been cathartic for me. Elaborating and reflecting kept me grounded during difficult decisions and aggravating political meetings. Generally, that is an accomplishment only my wife can boast about.
Malleability, critical thinking, patience, and the capacity to care are all qualities that I feel educators have in abundance. Some of those characteristics don’t come immediately or naturally, at least to me, but I have been successful as a teacher for over a decade because I integrated those traits into my everyday life.
When I first entered the world of volunteerism, non-profits, and politics, I did not have the first clue how important those qualities would be.
Malleability is a four-letter word in politics. The thought process from those deep in that world is that if you give in, even a little bit, you are as good as defeated. “If you give an inch they will take a mile” is a phrase I have heard multiple times in the last year, but educators know people are not binary. Adaptation and evolution are the only reasons life exists on this planet. Malleability makes a person strong instead of rigid and easily broken.
Critical thinking was something I expected in abundance when I started to volunteer. I thought those in a position of power at least consider alternatives and other points of view. As an educator, I have dedicated entire weeks of semesters to critical thinking. I know that teaching critical thinking skills is common across all fields of higher learning, but I was disappointed to discover firsthand that not all degree-wielding graduates are educated. To my dismay, I learned that the abilities to consider other points of view and entertain higher level thinking are some of the first skills tossed aside once power is obtained. Like malleability, I have witnessed a twisted thought process that equates titles to absolution.
Patience is a skill that was learned for me as I developed as an educator. If I saw someone struggling or emotionally upset I would try to resolve it immediately. Often this process resulted in making the problem worse, or in some cases causing those I was trying to help to become distant. Being an educator taught me that taking action is important, but expecting immediate results is not. In fact, most issues of import can rarely be solved overnight. Quick fixes can be dangerous and lead to unintended consequences. Educators know this from experience, but that knowledge is not as abundant elsewhere.
I stated previously that the cornerstone to all of these traits is the capacity to care. Rather than repeat those thoughts entirely, I want to stress there is a difference between the appearance of caring and having the capacity to care. Educators know this firsthand. Teachers flunk students every semester who either do not have the skills or work ethic to move forward. They understand that by doing so they are helping, even if it’s not apparent to the student at first (or ever). The capacity to care is as much about saying “no” as it is saying “yes”. I hear the word “care” all the time at meetings, but simply saying the word just puts up an appearance. It takes action and difficult choices to show the capacity to care.
Capacity can be a real hurdle. I have tried to encourage other thoughtful, patient, and caring people to volunteer, but the truth is there are only so many hours in the day. The capacity of time is a very cruel reality.
All I need to do is open my calendar and look at the several hours of meetings I am dedicated to next week. At this rate, there is a real possibility that I won’t be able to keep up the pace of my volunteer efforts because of the time commitments. However, as a friendly colleague reminded me last week, Theodore Roosevelt had a quote for that problem as well, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”.
I started my volunteer process as a member of an economic advisory group that met once a month for a few hours. That is a far stretch from the multi-meeting weeks I am in now, but it does show that there are opportunities out there for any time schedule.
Educators have all the traits that are needed in volunteers and public servants.
I can’t promise that getting involved will be energizing, fun, or financially rewarding. I can promise that, even in a short term or limited position, a difference will be made that wouldn’t have otherwise.
Until next year, thank you for reading.