There Should Be A Medal

The most extraordinary, ordinary thing happened to me recently.

A former student, a career changer, early fiftyish former draftsperson, wrapping up his third year teaching English/Language Arts at a local high school, contacted me.

After a long school day in the middle of May, he tucked his students’ essays under his arm, got in his car, and instead of driving home, headed to my university office. He wanted my help better preparing his students for college level writing. He admitted he wasn’t doing a good job teaching writing and didn’t really know how to improve.

He deserves a medal of some sort for a trifecta of positive attributes that are a powerful formula for self improvement writ large. Not just self improvement, a foundation for strengthening the common good.

1) Self-compassion. His starting point was the essence of this NYT essay:

‘I’m an imperfect human being living an imperfect life.’

2) Selflessness. He cares deeply about his students. So much so he wants to increase their odds of success in college, and in turn, life.

3) Initiative. 999 out of 1,000 high school English teachers are content not really knowing if they’re doing their best to prepare their students for college level writing. They have lots of other, more pressing things to do after work.

self-compassion + selflessness + initiative = personal growth

We had a great conversation despite my being distracted by two things. First, I was struck by the fact that college writing is a topic I know a lot about. That was a nice realization, because like most people I suspect, sometimes I wonder if I have any expertise.

Second, I was distracted by the realization that I don’t do what my fellow educator was modeling so powerfully. I have a lot of acquaintances and friends who are way more knowledgeable about and/or skilled in areas I’d like to learn more about and/or improve, yet I never ask them if they’d be up to teaching me.

Why is that? There are lots of possibilities. Maybe I’m not secure/vulnerable enough to embrace my imperfections. Or maybe I’m too lazy a sad sack (how’s that for self compassion). Or most likely, despite how much I enjoyed helping my former student, I just don’t want to impose on them.

I’m not alone. Most people pay experts for specialized knowledge and skills or watch “Do It Yourself” YouTube tutorials. The person who asks a friend or acquaintance to teach them something they don’t know is the wonderful exception to how most of us approach life.