Growing up, I attended a very liberal K-12 school. We called our teachers by their first names, we did not receive letter grades until high school, and on particularly nice days many teachers would opt to hold their classes outside.
It was a nice place to go to school.
Among the many wonderful memories of my early schooling (and of course, some not so wonderful ones) there is one lesson that keeps coming back to me from a high school science class.
My 9th grade science class was taught by a tall, lean fellow who had an uncommonly soothing voice and passion for the sciences. However, it’s not his teaching that I remember – I actually now struggle to even remember the name of his course – but rather what I remember was his attitude toward his students.
On the first day of class he made it clear that no one was obligated to come to his class. This was quite a novel concept to us students, considering many of our other classes placed emphasis on the importance of never missing a class. He would say "you don’t have to do anything you don’t want, there is always a choice." He did caveat that there are consequences for some choices, but he always emphasized that there is a choice none the less.
One component of his ethos that has particularly stuck with me was his universal understanding.
On occasion a student would come to class without having completed an assignment. While other teachers might give a disappointed look, ask for an excuse, or tell the student that their grade was going to be affected, my 9th grade science teacher would do no such thing. All he would do is give a very understanding look and say "it’s ok, life is very complicated".
In a world of deadlines, strict accountability, and billable hours I feel that we forget the sheer complexity of life in the modern world. Every day tragedy will strike someone. People get sick, depressed, married, pregnant, happy, sad, and everything in between. In this world, we all need to be a little like my 9th grade science teacher. Hope for the best, but above all be understanding.
After all, life is very complicated.