Historic community

I spent Tuesday evening at a retirement party.

I currently work in the library at an independent school, one that’s been around for over a hundred years. The party was for two teachers (in different departments) who met and married early in their careers at the school – who have both taught here for well over 30 years. They are core to the school, and it’s going to be a very different place next year.

It was an excellent party – good food, and laughter, and people who’d retired in previous years coming back, and stories, and good humor. It also made me think.

We talk in the Pagan community about community elders: the people we look up to, the people who help us frame the conversations in and around and about our lives, the people who offer thoughts and wisdom and advice – but who don’t push their answers on the person asking.

It was clear, at this party, how many incredibly intelligent, capable, wonderful teachers looked up to these two, in so many ways. I work with really amazing people (it’s one of the main reasons I’ve stayed with the job so long), and when they all think someone else is amazing? You pay attention. Close attention.

One teacher told a story of when she was department head, of asking one of these teachers (a former head of that department) for help on how to figure out a staffing issue. She came up with plan after plan, and would go and ask for advice, and get back the answer “You’ll figure it out.” After a number of revisions, she came up with a really good plan, one that solved all the problems, and tried again – to get a smile, and a “I knew you’d get here!”.

It’s teaching without being patronising. It’s guiding, but treating your colleagues like the mature, capable, competent, intelligent adults that they are, and standing back and seeing how they solve things, not how you’d solve things. It’s being a resource, without doing all the work for someone else. It’s sharing the cool stuff, without competition or fear of losing your own value. These are people who *know* they’re good teachers, who know how many lives they’ve touched – but who also know they can always improve, and who were, up until the very end of the semester, both looking for new ways to teach material, to engage their students, to share their wisdom and knowledge.

That was part of it.

The other part is about community. Both children of these teachers were there, and they spoke about what it was like growing up as part of the community, having many of the teachers in the room as family friends. And from that came stories that I’d known but not quite pieced together.

These are teachers who are very careful about how they spend their time. They invested incredible time outside the classroom in grading, designing assignments, or creating new courses. They spend their time thoughtfully: they’d rather travel to an interesting place, or see a specific, chosen film, than have the TV on or watch whatever the summer blockbuster is. They read in a way that awes and amazes an extremely literate and well-read community. They’ve been active in their community – in politics, in community service, in service to the school – in all sorts of ways.

But they’ve also done a host of other things. One teacher there spoke of how she’d worried when her husband began working at the same campus – what would it be like to work with your spouse? These two retiring teachers invited them both over for dinner, not just once, but regularly, to talk about how it worked for them and what mattered. They’ve done similar things for other teachers at various times in their lives: reached out in small and quiet ways on a personal level – and been quite active in discussions about school structure and administration on a more public one.

These are all things I’ve been thinking about. How do I spend my time? Where do I spend it? Are there places I could spend less time? How would I improve that? What would make my life qualitatively *better*? How can I make my community better? How can I do the equivalent of those kinds of dinners? What would happen in our Pagan community if more people did small things like that? I don’t have any immediate answers – but I do have some ideas for the summer that I want to try out.

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