Thursday, September 15, 2005

A world of teachers

Our family has a lot of teachers. Our daughter is a teacher on a leave of absence to raise her kids. Her husband is a teacher. Our son Matt just married Sarah, who is doing her student teaching this semester. Of course, teachers are not the most well paid group of professionals. We laugh about it sometimes, and tell Matt that since he is the only one in the bunch who is not a teacher, we will depend on him to support the rest of us in our old age.

In fact, though, we all are teachers. Go in any store, parking lot, home, or restaurant, and you will see kids learning from adults. They learn how to act in a civilized manner....or not. They learn to say "please" and "thank you"....or not. They learn to open doors for people....or not. But they are definitely learning. And we are teaching.

Last weekend in Portland, Rachel and Caroline and I ate lunch at Olive Garden. Rachel was 7 months pregnant, her hip was hurting, the day was warm, and by the time we got to the restaurant it was way past lunchtime. Even so, it was crowded, with a predicted 25-minute wait. We took the little pager they gave us and walked outside into the crowd of people. There were all kinds of people sitting on the benches, some older adults, and several young adults with kids of various ages. Rachel stood there in front of everybody, and not one person - not one - offered to give their seat to her. Not one adult suggested to their children to give up their seats for the pregnant lady. I really was surprised. Maybe I shouldn't have been. Maybe I'm just naive and don't know that things have changed and most people are looking out only for themselves. Maybe this world has accepted the status quo for so long that no one notices when a pregnant woman (or elderly woman or man, or handicapped person) needs a little act of kindness.

We were finally driven inside the restaurant by a man who didn't seem concerned or aware that a pregnant woman and everyone else was breathing his cigarette smoke. Again, we stood, and again, no one in this group of people offered her a seat either. Finally a couple was paged that their table was ready, so when they got up, Rachel sat down. There was room for Caroline and me, too.

Then Rachel turned to her daughter and said, "Caroline, you may sit here, but on one condition. If an old person or a pregnant lady like me comes in and can't find a seat, you will have to get up and give them your seat, because that is using your manners. Do you understand?" Caroline nodded. A few minutes later a woman in her 70s or 80s walked in. She leaned against a post while she waited. Rachel bent down to Caroline and said something in her ear. Caroline looked over at the woman and then at me. I took her hand and together we got up and walked over to the lady and offered her our seats. At first she declined, saying thanks for the offer, but she could just stand. We insisted, though, and the lady did indeed walk to the bench, where she sat down beside Rachel.

I doubt if anyone else noticed the whole incident. Probably nobody cared anyway. But Caroline had the opportunity to begin what I'm sure will be a lifetime of learning - about manners, about civility, about empathy, about sacrifice, about what it means to live in community with one another. And if the other children present were learning anything, it was whatever the adults with them were teaching by their actions, or lack of them.

I began this post by saying that our family has a lot of teachers. Well, we have a lot of teachers with degrees, that's true. But I was reminded Saturday that you don't need a degree to be a teacher. The kids are watching.

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