“A politician looks forward to the next election cycle, while a statesman looks forward to the next generation.” This admirable sentiment has been attributed to a number of speakers including Thomas Jefferson and the 19th Century Reverend James Freeman Clarke. But I heard the quote attached to President Gerald Ford. Whoever uttered these words has my full endorsement.
This morning began well. I awoke from a dream-filled sleep of taking roll, presenting lessons, and interacting with my students. They were all mixed up, hailing from a multitude of graduating classes, but still they were all my kids. I knew them well. In point of fact, most of my nights pass in a flowing narrative of teacher dreams, and I’ve gotten fairly used to this regular occurrence. The joke since retiring is, “I work so hard at night I should still be on the payroll.”
At any rate, after waking up, my mood remained jovial, still dialed in to happy. Tapping on my iPhone a picture appeared of a former student, now in a military uniform singing with three other soldiers. He and his brothers-in-arms were performing a rendition of the National Anthem at a public event. In another post a young lady, newly attending college revealed her fears about losing interest in reading for pleasure—a concern she happily resolved by opening a new book. Scrolling down the wall a bit, a wonderful family picture appeared of one of the kindest student’s I’ve had the pleasure to know. She posed before a Christmas tree with her three little boys, the youngest only two months old. Her husband’s caption clearly revealed his love for her and his boys. These posts are just, well, just so cool!
Not all teaching reminders and memories are as bright as those that I experienced this morning. Still, I wouldn’t have missed my time with these young people for a king’s ransom. Magic occurred in those classrooms; pure joy a guaranteed bi-product of the learning process.
I discovered over the years, that basic to the art of teaching and learning, is a faith in the future, a tangible something waiting ahead for every individual—a realized dream. All the hours of classroom preparation devoted to listening and thinking skills, observation, and problem-solving, were simply a training ground for young people to eventually find their place in the larger world.
While grappling with today’s incessant demands, it is far too easy to gloss over thoughts of the future. Caught up in the crowded moments that make up the present, many lose sight of the certainty of tomorrow. Teachers, however, are not permitted the luxury of settling in the moment. We must skip ahead of the “now,” planning and adjusting, then planning further. Intrinsic to our professional calling is the absolute assurance of a looming future, and we have to get our kids ready.
Perhaps stake holders could gain some perspective by casting aside trivial, momentary agendas—the noisy culture wars taking place across media battlegrounds, jousting in never ending finger pointing. Those distractions impede the progress available to our students, who are rapidly passing through the system. These kids are here today and gone tomorrow, quite literally.
When I assessed my students in class, I often envisioned them as adults, figuring out their individual niche. With that objective as my guide, I tried to design the best methods available to reach practical benchmarks. Even so, in the end, I had to let each class move on, a natural continuation forward to meet their futures, hopefully carrying my small contribution. An act of faith.
With our eyes vigilantly fixed on the countless tomorrows yet to come, would teachers be considered President Ford’s definition of statesmen? I’d like to think so.
Gail Chumbley is a retired educator and author of River of January. Also available on Kindle. Watch for “River of January: Figure Eight” this Fall.