The other evening when I was playing a board game, a friend shared with me something that I first thought was a joke until it quickly began to frighten me. Our discussion that followed, rooted in what we had watched, has stayed with me almost haunting me.
As a teacher I have many responsibilities. Perhaps the most important one of all is accountability. Accountability to myself, to my professions however most of all: to my students and teachers I have had and currently had. Teaching in every conceivable sense there is shapes the lives of students and of people. HOW you shape the life of another individual and WHY you shape the life of another individual is equal to, (for example) in my humble opinion, the how and why of a doctor saving an individual’s life.
Okay – You are calling me melodramatic. Let me throw some names out there then: Charles Manson, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, Jim Jones and Adolph Hitler. You are probably saying right now “Those are cult leaders! They were crazy!” Yes, they were. However first and foremost: They were teachers! Maybe not in the conventional sense, but teachers nonetheless. Through their teachings, each created a following: people who looked to them for guidance, understanding, compassion, mentorship, even love. People who had a need and found their need fulfilled by the words and/or actions of teachers.
I could list countless other religious figures, politicians, business executives; some would have positive influences on people and others would not. It does not really matter. That really is not the point of this post. The point is that as teachers (as ADULTS and as HUMAN beings) we have a responsibility to provide a safe environment were people can grow, especially never forget that our students are looking to us for guidance, understanding, compassion, mentorship and love.
Our students savor every word that comes out of our mouths. Our students notice every last detail about us.
So how does this relate? Well, Mr. Pape (my former high school History teacher; dear friend of mine) died in his sleep a couple days ago. No one knows why. He had three children and was divorced (I believe). He had my cousin Jessica in the late 90s. He was loved unconditionally by his colleagues, teachers and the students he had. He loved his family more than anything. I had him in sophomore year.
Let me also connect this to Mr. Pape in the sense that people would say I am a positive cult leader. Between college campuses and everywhere including what I have done and do, I interestingly have a following of thousands. This scares the living hell out of me!! That is NOT what I want or desire in live. However, when you break it down to brass tacks, it sort of is the situation. Mr. Pape had a huge following too during his life. He would probably state the same thing as me again – “That scares the living daylights out of me!!
I prefer to think, hope, whatever it is, that what I am creating is a CULTURE (for a lack of better word). A culture where PEOPLE are given the tools to make decisions for themselves, a culture where PEOPLE are given the tools to grow, to learn, to lead their lives in a way that is honest, and a culture where PEOPLE do not blindly follow but learn to lead themselves.
This is similar to what Mr. Pape taught me as a teacher. I am sure all my teachers did the same in one way or another. With Mr. Pape, I knew it was that because he was already direct about it. So many memories and good chats about life, Boy Scouts and music even though we occasionally talked about politics too.
So what brought all this on?
As I said at the start of this meandering post – which accomplishes what I am not sure just yet, I heard something that frightened me. It frightened me because it contained absolutely no substance whatsoever. It was a simple declarative sentence: Mr. Pape died.
Teachers speak – students listen, students absorb, and students apply what they learned. What one says MUST have substantive value! Even the smallest of comments are taken from your mouth and put in action by students. The experiences you create for them will become part of the foundation of their lives. This is scary – scary stuff folks!
Even if you spout off rhetoric with no substantive purpose, then you run the risk of hurting people. Mr. Pape never hurt people because he always had value in what he said to his students and me. Mr. Pape was the kind of person who would never get mad at you because he would always look for the good in others. That is how we should live our lives no matter what negatives we encounter in things and in other people.
There is a quote in the first Jurassic Park movie spoken by the character Ian Malcolm that stands out to me during this time:
The internet affords us the luxury of being able to leave a digital footprint for hundreds – if not thousands of others to experience. We can “reach” so many people. This is a tool: a tool that is taken for granted these days and a tool that is abused by many as well. Simply because you have this tool available to you does not mean you should use it!
(And the irony is I am doing just what I said one should not do!)
It was (and still is) never my intention to create a cult. It was (and still is) my intention to create positive learning experiences for my students and people I meet that they would never have if not for the things we are involved in with each other.
THAT is creating a culture!
Yes, I have a following and yes, the reality of that is frightening to me. Mr. Pape probably feels the same way as I do. I hope beyond hope that I always remember just how fragile that following is, just how impressionable they are, and just how needy they are.
I hope I always remember that “With great power comes great responsibility.” Mr. Pape knew that and he demonstrated that in his teachings to others and in his life.
Teaching is a form of power. Teaching requires great responsibility. A teacher (and a human for that matter) should always check their ego at the door, and remember in the words of Mr. Pape: “You are shaping lives people!
Rest well, Mr. Pape. Uncle Jim is glad to see you in heaven. I can not wait to see you again and I know you will be very proud of me like everyone else is. We love you.