The other day on my way to work I heard this on NPR. It is a story about a young man whose life was saved by a stranger when his car crashed. The young man asked the stranger what he owed him and the stranger replied to simply “pass it on”. From that point forward, this young man, Thomas Weller’s life was changed and made it his mission to “pass it on” to others for the rest of his life.
It is amazing how one moment in time can alter the path we are on and change us forever. Most of us change by crisis no matter what we do or see. We get a result from the doctor we don’t want and finally begin to rethink how we eat. Someone close to us dies and we begin to realize our mortality, the fragility of life and start to examine our lives and how we should live with this gift of time. Some of us adapt to the changing times. We don’t change by crisis but we certainly aren’t ahead of the curve. Others anticipate the future based on our keen ability to understand the world we live in and make changes now for ideally a better future.
I don’t mean to write so much about change as much as I do about the idea of “passing it on”. Unfortunately, I believe too much of the work done today is about what we can “get” as opposed to what we can “give”. In education, the work is most definitely NOT about what we can “get” but what we can “give”. Isn’t it? For me, I think of my self as a servant. I am a public servant but first and foremost, a servant to teachers, students and the community where I work. It is not about me, my position, and what I necessarily want or need, but what I can do to help lead and serve those around me. I am here to “pass it on”.
I believe it is easy to lose sight of this today. There is more pressure on educators today than ever before. We are held to standards that teachers before us were never held to and with media and technology, we are under the microscope like never before. It can be easy to forget that ultimately what got us into this profession is that we wanted to give and to “pass it on”. In some ways we may have become defensive and resistant to these “outside forces” or “ed reformers” and it appears to those not in our profession that we may not be the servants the public wants us to be. This is not true. Some change is needed and we all need to continue to grow and develop to help better prepare our students for an unknown future. However, I think we can better “serve” our students and one another if we remember daily and begin each day with the question why we are here; to just “pass it on”.
I became a teacher because of teachers, such as Dick Peterec and Dallas Jacobs, who inspired me to “pass it on”. They changed my life. I try to do this every day and know the teachers in my district are here because they want to give and to “pass it on”. What does that look like? How is that measured? The truth is I don’t know, nor do I care. It is kind of like when Palmer Joss, Matthew McConaughey’s character in Contact, asks Dr. Arroway, the scientist void of any spirituality and believes science provides all answers, to prove that she loved her deceased father. How do you prove love? You can’t, just like you can’t define nor measure what “passing it on” looks like. It is something you and others feel in the bottom of our hearts when we give to one another, when we are here to “pass it on”. It is and should be our starting point as educators every day. And if this is our starting point every day, then to give or “pass it on” means we must be open to change if it better serves our students and their education. “Passing it on” is not about what we want but what we do to serve others. That may be challenging because a lot of what we are asking of educators today is out of our “comfort zones”. However, I do believe we can begin to make the changes in ourselves and in our profession that will change and improve what is needed to provide better service and education for our students and communities because very few dedicate their lives to the service of others like educators.