At San Miguel School Tulsa, where I teach middle school science, the classes are separated by gender. One day, while teaching photosynthesis to my seventh grade boys, one of my students shouted out in class “hey mister, will you teach us about girls?” Trying to quickly get the boys back on topic, I tell them “yes, yes, I’ll teach you boys all about girls.” After saying this, another boy yells out “mister, you think you know everything!”
Upon further reflection, young Kevin is right; I do think I know everything. As a teacher, I can fall into the mindset that I am the paragon of knowledge in order to have the confidence to be an effective teacher. In reality, the wisest teachers are those who are aware their knowledge is limited and are conscious of their shortcomings. My students continually humble me and remind me of my shortcomings, which has been an integral part of my development as man in this past year of service.
Up until this year, I had never ventured far from my comfort zone. Whether it was instructing Tae Kwon Do, doing yoga everyday, or studying chemistry, I was never outside of my comfort zone. This year, however, I could not be further outside my comfort zone. Not only am I not good at what I do, but I couldn’t be more uncomfortable about it. Despite this discomfort I have to look like I know exactly what I’m doing. I have realized that it is okay to be vulnerable, and having the humility to be vulnerable leads to the greatest amount of growth.
This is the strongest aspect of the Lasallian Volunteers program, the fact that it places young people into novel situations that lead to tremendous personal growth. I do not know a single Lasallian Volunteer that would say that their service is easy, but I also do not know an LV that would say that what they do is trivial and forgettable. No matter how difficult a year service can be, powerful, transformative experiences are guaranteed. Every Lasallian Volunteer I have talked to has had the common experience of being tried and tested, and every Lasallian Volunteer I have talked to has learned a tremendous amount, whether their service experience was positive or negative.
I hope Kevin and all my other students continue to challenge me and remind me of the long road I still have to travel. One thing you can always count on is that a middle school student will always be totally honest with you. I once asked a high school teacher of mine why he teaches, and he told me “first, because things constantly change and are always new. Second, if you suck, your students will let you know immediately.” After almost a year of teaching under my belt, I have learned that he was not lying. The next time I try to act like I have teaching figured out, my students will surely remind me that “mister, you don’t know everything.”
Simon Leibovic, 12-14, San Miguel School, Tulsa, OK