Students, Parents, One Teacher, and Michelangelo

In the past, back-to-school night has always been rather routine: I introduce myself and the curriculum, go over state ELA and social studies standards and class rules, answer a few questions, and thank the parents for coming. Following my presentation, most parents approach me individually to introduce themselves and thank me for my time.

But not this year.

During last week’s back-to-school night, my eighth-grade students and their parents received a very different message. Oh, to be sure … I did introduce the curriculum, standards, rules, and so forth — but by reference. In other words, I did not talk about them in any detail … instead, I distributed a handout, showed them my website for students, gave them my cell phone number with instructions to call me if they had any questions, spent 90 seconds on the class rules, and asked them to read the rest.

And then I told them the story of Michelangelo’s David. (See my September 5, 2011 post, located below, “Discovering Who We Are.”)

I told the parents that each child was unique, that my most important job was to help each student find the David within, that each one was special and had been sent here for a very specific and important purpose by a power far beyond this earth, and that, when I looked at their children, I saw in them the divine — brothers and sisters with a common heritage. I even quoted William Wordsworth:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfullness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home.

I told my parents that when I dealt with their children, I would do so based on these simple truths, and that my expectations for their individual performances would likewise be elevated. And as I had done on the first day of class, I again challenged each student to discover his or her own purpose — and I invited parents to join them in that most personal quest.

“There is a great deal of talk around here about scores,” I said. “But scores are second on my list of concerns for your children because, if I can help your child discover who he or she really is, then the scores will take care of themselves.”

I concluded by telling them that this was the message I had delivered to their children on the first day of school, and the one I will continue to deliver throughout the entire school year.

The looks on the faces of the parents told me all I needed to know: It is going to be a very different year.

Discovering Who We Are

There once stood in Florence a magnificent block of Carrara marble. Standing at over 17 feet tall, it was an imposing block of marble — destined for the sculptor’s hands, there to be turned in to an equally imposing and magnificent work of art. But as the sculptor for whom it was intended set to work, he so badly damaged the great block of marble that it became utterly useless — a tragic waste. For decades artists would come to view the block of marble only to turn away with sorrow because of the loss … Until a 26-year-old came to examine the great stone and saw what no one else had been able to see. And from that magnificent block of marble, Michelangelo sculpted David — the word’s most well-known sculpture and one of mankind’s greatest works of art.

There is a message here for all of us. It begins with looking inward to discover the David within, and then continues with seeing the David in others. It’s a journey, but one we must all take if we are to become what our Creator intended, if we are to experience the sublime, endless joy that comes by discovering and living by the truth of who we are and what we can become.