This isn’t going to come out right, but I’ll try.
Service has always been a part of my family. It wasn’t something we talked about. It wasn’t tokenized; it wasn’t manufactured. It wasn’t even referred to as service. (Saying it now makes me feel paternalistic).
My father volunteered as a basketball coach when my brother used to play. He knew all the families, all the usual suspects. When parents couldn’t get off work in time, he’d take the kids home. When they couldn’t afford lunch, he’d buy it. When they couldn’t afford uniforms, he’d get them.
Sometimes his commitment was a sacrifice for the things that we wanted. We knew this was part of the territory, it was something we understood.
He was stable and consistent. If they didn’t know who to turn to, they knew their children were always welcome in our home, day or night.
He used to cut yards for some of the elderly couples he knew from work, but who were no longer as mobile. We’d help rake leaves in the summers and sweep the sidewalks and the driveways.
He made friends of them. My mother would take us with her when she’d pick up groceries for them. We’d wash the dishes and trip over their cats. They gave us books as a thank you; they told us stories.
My mother used to sew clothes. Sometimes she’d make some for friends and family who wanted something new for a special occasion. She’d braid their hair too. She’d always make sure the little girls looked presentable. She understood, and was resentful towards, bullying.
They were always busy, always working, and these acts however kind and courteous seemed unnecessary, time-consuming, and boring. I helped because I was held captive by youth, because I was obligated, and because laziness was slovenly. The struggle.
We had a culture of work as service. Work was embedded in the routine of your life. Work was done for the benefit of others– regardless of the inconvenience to self, to time, or to family. Regardless of the financial sacrifice. Regardless of how much sleep you did or didn’t get. Regardless of how many fights you resolved or how many unappreciative children destroyed your toys.
I inherited this mindset of service, but I was privileged. I used to be a white, evangelical Christian. (More on that later.)
My commitment was without passion and, if I can be completely honest here, without a desire to impact change in communities. Without a desire to fill gaps. Without a desire to care for and protect my neighbors– regardless of their age, race, or circumstance.
Students said they liked when I tutored them because I was straight-forward, concise, and funny. I used simple language; I created elaborate examples. I checked for understanding. I checked for disenchantment.
I helped because data is important. I reasoned that statistically, students perform better when they experience culturally relevant pedagogy, when their experiences and feelings are affirmed, and when they are validated.
They liked when I taught classes because they knew I had expectations for student learning. I wasn’t satisfied with failure. I understood the consequences.
I helped because people said I was smart and that I was good at explaining things. I helped because they told me that I was kind and pretty.
This won’t come out right, but I’ll try anyway. I want to be polite, but I want to be honest. I’m not sure that I can do both.
I mean this wholeheartedly, regardless of the service field in which you find yourself. But for the sake of specificity, I’ll direct this primarily to educators.
***If you are a good educator (i.e. effective and respected), please disregard.
If you are like me (i.e. you’re not), please listen carefully:
If you’re in this (teaching) for the hugs and cookies, please get out. If you’re here because you’re a middle child, and you didn’t get enough attention or affection, please get out. If you teach because you came from a single-parent home and your father abandoned you when you were young, and for your whole life you’ve been searching for validation and affection; please quit. Stop. Please don’t let your students fill that void. Mind the gap.
If you teach because “they’re such nice people” or “they’re such good people,” please stop. If you’re here because they make you coffee and tell you that you’re special and make you feel loved; please, I beseech you: get out.
This isn’t the place for you. You are part of the problem.
If you’re in this because no one in their entire life ever did ____________ for them, please leave. If you’re here to be a voice for the voiceless or to empower the powerless, get out.
Don’t speak for me. Pass the fucking mic.
This isn’t the place for you. I mean this wholeheartedly, regardless of the service field in which you find yourself. I mean this wholeheartedly, regardless of your intent, your passion, your faith, or your heart for service.