Self-emptying to stay true to the mission of teaching in a Catholic school
By Laura Graham Fetters
I recently learned the term kenosis: Christ’s self-emptying for the will of the Father. As a veteran teacher, I now recognize that the concept of self-emptying is an important part of staying true to the mission of teaching in a Catholic school. With a markable level of humility, I have to recognize when it is time to let go: when a much-loved teaching process has finished its run, when a traditionally solid educational strategy no longer works with the culture, or when a piece of literature fails to satisfy. I admit, sometimes this self-emptying process is quite difficult. As a typical human, I can definitely find myself clinging to my teacher comfort zones, but with the ongoing guidance of the Holy Spirit, I must always be ready to reboot, to reload, and to re-educate myself.
Kenosis also is required in relationships with people in my work space, letting go of ego-related issues and recognizing that I cannot know all there is about teaching and that I need others to help me to be effective. It is imperative that I understand the invaluable perspectives that my younger co-workers have regarding today’s culture and technology, and in order to understand the youth mindset better, I need to enlist the expertise of those closest to the age group. In a similar way, I must self-empty when I have made a poor decision, crossed the line, or shirked a duty with co-workers, parents, and students; apologies are critical to maintaining right relationships within my teaching life. Kenosis allows me to self-correct and even to laugh at myself when I fail. Arrogance is an enemy of good teaching.
Most important of all, kenosis is necessary to allow God to work within me. Daily prayers must include a certain level of surrender: handing myself over to the mission of the Catholic school and the purpose of the work. To me, that purpose and that work are the reasons I have stayed in this setting for three decades: forming young disciples who understand that they are precious children of God, conveying that they are each called to contribute to their communities in a positive way, and building a mindset that is firmly rooted in being the salt and the light to others. I call it finding your inner awesome.
I am blessed to have worked at wonderful schools in the past 32 years, and while it is true that I have made my own embarrassing share of mistakes, I have learned incredible lessons. These experiences have afforded me a wisdom that an education course cannot provide. While I continue to self-empty when needed, I also have gained a certain measure of confidence that I understand for the most part what young people need and crave: a bar set reasonably high so that they know that I believe in their potential, a classroom culture where they can safely experiment with their fluctuating world views, and, most of all, daily opportunities to invest in their spiritual lives so that they can create an unshakable hope in God’s eternal love for each of them.
Laura Graham Fetters is an eighth-grade ELA and faith formation teacher at Blessed Sacrament School in Washington, DC, and currently a graduate student in theology at St. Leo University.
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