Thursday, June 03, 2010

Being a Good Tissue Box

I have a box of tissues on my desk at school, and it often serves as a good reminder of the kind of teacher I hope to be. The box doesn’t do anything but sit there on the desk and be ready to help. It’s not a busybody box. It doesn’t push itself into kids’ faces, doesn’t walk around the room showing off its tissue-ness, doesn’t try to micromanage the students’ sneezes and coughs. It just sits and waits. If it had a face, it would have an observant and caring expression, entirely alert and ready to help when needed. As a teacher, I wish I had a little more of the tissue box in me. For sure, there are times when I need to be up and about, giving instructions and support to the scholars, but there are also times when I should keep my overbearing self out of the picture, and, like a good tissue box, simply wait to be of assistance. When I’m teaching, I easily fall into the role of commander and manager, and lose sight of the crucial role of observer and helper. Good managers know when to stop managing and start allowing – when to stop being at the center and start staying on the fringes, carefully following the progress of the work. My tissue box knows how to shut up, stay still, and wait – and I’m still learning that essential skill. I’m trying to remember that waiters and watchers perform vital tasks as often as movers and shakers. As the poet John Milton reminded us, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

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