Reading: From Christian Education by Bl. Basil Moreau
It was the Lord Himself who said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” There is no other conclusion to be reached than that in the overseeing of the mind and heart of a young person and in the effective use of authority in a school, a teacher needs to possess gentleness. Gentleness is the filling of the soul with the Spirit so as to moderate the anger that arises when a person feels irritated towards those who have caused some injury. It is the result of a patience that never tires and of a self-control that keeps everything under the guardianship of reason and faith.
Given that, one can understand the need of such a virtue in teachers, for to fulfill their mission successfully teachers must make themselves liked by their students. Gentleness is the only way in which they will succeed in the task of bringing out love in their students. You are aware of the statement “love causes love.” As people, we are built so that we cannot resist a person who displays true affection for us. Young people are very impressionable and are especially prone to this. They relate easily and happily with those from whom they hope and expect to receive reciprocal love and confidence. Feelings of love and respect between teachers and students are the result of charity and gentleness, inseparable virtues that cannot exist independently of one another. Saint Francis de Sales himself says that meekness is “the very flower of charity.”
Teachers who are meek and who follow the example of Jesus Christ lose none of their authority and do not stress what is hard and severe in authority. They put themselves in their students’ places. They try to persuade their students that they will find in their teachers tender and devoted friends who understand them. Considering themselves as taking the place of those who have entrusted young people to them, gentle teachers borrow from the father and the mother positive feelings toward young people. Everything in such teachers bears the stamp of this virtue: They avoid judging with harshness and anger, and they do not rely on exaggerated confidence in themselves. They are always guided by a heart full of compassion and kindness and make their decisions without stubbornness or injustice. They do not say things that will hurt the feelings of young people and do not make fun of students, as people who often feel injured by the statements or actions of another do. Gentleness overcomes those tendencies to self-love and shuts out the desire for revenge. Gentleness permits teachers to endure all the adversities and unpleasant experiences and occurrences that go hand in hand with schooling and to proceed with complete calmness of spirit.
Gentleness begets a number of other good qualities: sensibility, good will, and a pleasant manner of acting and speaking. Gentleness permits teachers to remove what is harsh from a command, permits teachers to participate in activities with young people, leads teachers to be able to talk and discuss matters with students, permits teachers to sympathize with students who are often upset over things that are not important, and permits teachers to assist students when they are not feeling well or when they are depressed. Teachers filled with meekness can show an interest and an affection for young people that will win hearts. In class such teachers treat students with politeness, answer their questions with patience, and help keep students from punishments as much as possible by keeping them out of situations that are likely to lead them to misbehavior and punishment.
Gentle teachers will never be seen to inflict punishment when they are overly angry and upset. They will never push to the limit a student who is ready to react with anger and an outburst. Since these teachers are more disposed to reward than to punishment, whenever someone guilty of an offense wishes to return to a positive relationship, they pardon the student and show even more respect and friendship to that student than before. Gentle teachers also look upon school as their mission. Far from being a source of boredom and disappointment, classes become a real pleasure. This simply supports the statement of the wise person who said, “Do everything with gentleness and you will attract not only the respect but the love of other people.”
Teachers who have drawn such gentleness from Jesus Christ will be blessed and happy. They will truly be the important people in their school, and they will cause Jesus Christ to be the important person there. Loved by their students and respected by the parents, who will be so happy to have found such excellent teachers for their children, they will be rewarded with blessings from the entire school community and will go through life “doing good works.” Their memory will remain engraved upon the hearts of those students whom they have brought to the fullness of Christianity, and they will be a model to imitate and an example to follow.
Sad results flow from teachers who lack these qualities. Teachers who make no effort to acquire the gentleness of mind and heart that was recommended by Jesus Christ are really to be pitied. In their classes, they are annoyed and angered over every little thing. They shout, talk harshly, and carry on in all kinds of ways. Their rude and harsh approach intimidates and frightens students without their realizing that these actions can compromise them in the eyes of their students and the students’ families. They injure their students by making fun of their inadequacies, or their families, or their ethnic background. They call their students names. They impose exaggerated and unjust punishments on some; they require of others assignments and duties beyond the range of their abilities or experience. They cause students to lose a love of learning and to develop a distaste for school. Such conduct on the part of teachers earns them scorn and dislike; students try to find all kinds of ways of getting away from them and look for all kinds of ways to displease them. Not only will these teachers be unable to bring students to the fullness of Christianity, but they will also be unable to give students the knowledge and the instruction that are owed them. It would have been better if such teachers had never entered a classroom and attempted the difficult art of teaching. §
MEDITATION – Andrew Seeley
A teacher can feel quite alone in a classroom, facing a room full of bored, skeptical, distracted, energetic, mouthy young people. Negative emotions like anger, insecurity, and contempt arise naturally. We are tempted to lash out, to belittle, or to withdraw from our young people. Blessed Basil understood these temptations, and the difficult need to maintain authority. His recommendation is surprising — above all, be gentle! I am astonished that he wrote more about this virtue than any other. He must have realized how crucial it is to make our hearts meek yet strong enough to offer our students our interior devotion.
Virtuous action is always achieved by avoiding excess and deficiency; virtue itself is achieved by transforming our hearts. The mean of gentleness is so hard to find. Have I allowed my anger to make me attack my students? Have I enjoyed talking with colleagues about their deficiencies? On the other hand, have I been afraid to assert my authority in the classroom, because I lack the confidence that comes from authentic love of my students?
O Jesus, Meek and Humble of Heart, make my heart like unto Thine.
Through Christ our Lord,
Please also offer one Mass and one Rosary some time this month for the intentions of the members of the Confraternity.