Young people look for substance rather than image

It’s a Wednesday morning and my wife, Jenny, is next door, getting ready for the day. She teaches in Grade 2 and from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm, she will have 25 seven year olds online with her.

I can tell their excited voices that this gathering is vital for them. They are full of news and perspectives, including on the welfare of various pets, including our book-devouring dog.

I have known since last night how much preparation was required for today’s work. Different activities have been prepared for students with varying needs. One of their current topics is probability. In the classroom, they were throwing coins and throwing dice. Online, like so many others, it requires a creative approach.

It takes a lot of effort for teachers to help their students grow through online learning.Credit:iStock

Jenny will start the day with a prayer. In my years of teaching, I usually started classes with an old invocation: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.

Prayer asks that our hearts be created, that is, that they grow, and that the face of the earth be renewed. These words were taught to me by my mother, who believed that one should not take an exam without being guided from above. I think we were supposed to study too. Words still sum up for me what is happening in class: the creation of wise and generous hearts, the renewal of the earth.

Not all teachers start with prayer, but many start with a moment of peace, a quiet break before the hustle and bustle begins. In my childhood, a teacher would clap his hands and shout “okay, let’s get started”.

Teachers these days are better able to call a group to presence, knowing that for many there was an emotional journey before they even arrived. Qualified teachers give young people a space in which to grow, express themselves, develop questions, and become more alive. I have never seen a set of statistics that do anything like justice to the work of teaching.

Young people are confronted with existential questions as seldom before. They are looking for a well in their village, a place from which to draw meaning and possibility, a source for understanding human identity as a whole, not just their own individual identity. The language of well-being must evolve towards that of well-being. Students aspire to find their place in complex stories rather than being covered with motivating clichés; they yearn for ancient traditions that have the integrity and confidence to embrace their reality. They want more substance than image.

Michael McGirr works for Caritas Australia.

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