“The mind needs a mover to actualize it through teaching… Therefore the teacher raises the intellect to know the things he teaches…”
Thomas Aquinas, On the Teacher
At the end of a year a teacher is tired. It can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture through a myopia-inducing welter of details that need attention.
But sometimes something happens that brings the bigger picture back into focus.
The other day one of my colleagues was walking to class. It wasn’t just any class: it was the last of the semester; it was also the last of a life-long vocation. Raymund O’Herron has been teaching at this college for all of its forty-one years.
I was very glad to come upon him this beautiful spring morning, as I often have before, as he went along his way. As I approached him, I could not imagine what it would be like to be making that trek for the last time. With obvious understatement I offered, “Today’s the big day, Ray.”
He stopped and smiled. It seemed his eyes were already misting as he gave voice to what was in his heart: “It’s been a great way to spend a life.”
I was completely arrested. Here is a man looking back with memory at over forty years: of wrestling with difficult concepts, and of how to make those concepts accessible—or what you think, and hope and pray, will be accessible; of witnessing the coming of age of countless young men and women, and their trials, triumphs, and failures; of trying to awaken something you know is already there, if only you can touch it, and then get out of the way; of entering into relationships profoundly human and intimate, but which are always more about the other than you, and in which you must maintain a respectful distance; of striving to do something that calls for more devotion than you feel capable of offering; of trying to be something that often amazes you, and that you grow to realize is first of all a call to you, to become something more.
In a word, at over forty years of being.. a teacher.
Did he always know he would be a teacher? Did he wonder now and then whether he had made a mistake, and picture himself doing other things a man might do?
Ray, it has indeed been a great way to spend a life. And your students—whose lives could not be what they are without your teaching—will always be grateful that you chose, again and again, to spend it as you did. For to be a real teacher is indeed to spend a life. And blessed are those, inside classrooms as well as inside homes and in every corner of human life, who lovingly receive the gift of being a teacher, and then share it with those they love. Such good choices will echo without end.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is considered one of the greatest of medieval theologians. He called Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) ‘the Philosopher’ and wrote commentaries on all his major works.
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