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Doing
  • Education
Matthew Haggerty

According to one character in a George Bernard Shaw play, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." This philosophy has haunted me ever since I started working with The Saint Constantine School. Questions taking up space in my mind have been, "Am I avoiding the risk of pursuing things I can do for the easier task of teaching?" and, "If my main role at the school is Maintenance Man, why must I teach four class periods a week?" Bringing these questions to God has not, as of yet, brought any answers; but as the book of Job or the novel The Man Who Was Thursday could tell you: the questions of God are more satisfying than the answers of man. 

In my life before therapy, I prided myself on being a doer. I could be counted on to get stuff done, to make stuff happen, to power through. My productivity at Trader Joe's was excellent, but my customer service was not. I found that I defined myself by what I did, rather than how God made me. I couldn't relax or enjoy time off because, to my mind, if I wasn't doing something then I wasn't valuable. When my therapist suggested "being" instead of "doing", my experience of life began to change. Conversations with coworkers and interactions with customers became more meaningful; writing music became something I loved to do rather than something I needed to do to escape grocery work; I could relax and play and see that efficiency and productivity were gifts, not means to being an acceptable person. 

At TSCS, God is taking me back through this territory again. The temptation is always there to take the instant gratification of self-worth when accomplishing a task, even if that task is only unclogging a toilet; and this is especially tempting when compared to my time spent teaching. I could walk around campus and point to all the things I've improved, but I couldn't do that so simply in referring to my students. A manger at Trader Joe's could come up to me and say, "This apple box is still full. You haven't done your job," and I could fix that; but could a dean or parent give me that kind of feedback about a child? Certainly, there are skills that could be more easily quantified by their absence, such as addition or spelling, but could I be held responsible for my student who lacks empathy or discipline? Could I remedy those deficiencies if I were proven to be a poor teacher? 

This brings me back to the Shaw quotation.

How can teaching not also be doing? Of course, the ignorant and slothful can be found in every field – and maybe moreso in teaching because of the difficulty of not seeing immediate results. These people would definitely fall into Shaw's philosophy. But for those who are "being" through teaching, who are artful, masterful, and careful – how is their "doing" not evident? I believe Shaw was channeling the profound antipathy the human race feels for quintessential teachers when he wrote that line. Look to the lives, or deaths, rather, of Gandhi, Socrates, and Jesus for confirmation of this human bias. 

I suppose that what I'm really asking God with these questions is, "Am I a good teacher?" The response questions He seems to be asking me are, "Are you patient and kind? Can you leave the results to me?" Every Tuesday and Thursday, I attempt to say "yes" to those questions. I attempt to be a teacher who "does." The Shaw quotation is linked in my mind to another quotation by G. K. Chesterton: "Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde."  

A teacher's salary could be seen as a value statement, just as I chose to see the quick emptying of boxes of fruit as a reflection of value; but we are not teachers because we can't be otherwise. We could likely find easier jobs of better pay, jobs that might be simpler for others to understand the value in. Over time, I have noticed that what I think of as my "main" job at TSCS has shifted from “maintenance” to "teacher." I am a teacher. We are teachers. We are teachers because we can, and we do.