The Season of Giving and Helping Others by Dr. John Welmers

Somewhere around Halloween, we begin to be bombarded by the sights and sounds of the holidays and by Thanksgiving, the season reaches a peak which will last through to the New Year. Regardless of why you celebrate or if you celebrate at all, it is almost impossible to escape the hype of the continual sales, the music, the television specials (each now airing five times), whether it will snow and the jewelry will be free, and that it’s fine if we gain ten pounds. I too was feeling a little bit “seasonally overwhelmed” when a friend of mine put it in perspective as she was trying to wait on all the shoppers packed in her small downtown store. She told me that she loved the holidays, not because of the sales she would ring up, but because of the energy and kindness of the individuals she dealt with. Sure, she said, some people can be difficult, but right now almost everyone takes on a persona of good. Her observation was that during this time of year, we treat each other with a degree of respect and kindness that she just doesn’t normally see. We are friendlier, we smile more, and each person wants to do something good for someone else. For each of our own personal reasons, the holiday season brings our need to help others much more into focus. Maybe it is a combination of the hype and our own individual memories associated with the season, maybe it is our individual faith or belief, but overall we want and like to help others.
As educators, we should know that the holiday season is not just about the hype. Charlie Brown will pick the same underachieving tree each year – which can now be purchased online – and each year, through love, understanding and a little work, it will grow into something beautiful, representing much more than merely a tree. Don’t we practice that same thing? Don’t we either make or help to make those individual differences each day with each student we teach and reach? We know that a school’s overall test scores, the equivalent of seasonal hype, tell us little about the true success of our students. Instead, we get to see individual students, sometimes just like that underachieving tree, light up in so many beautiful ways.
A beginning teacher and I were talking about the holidays and she explained how even as special as it is, she is concerned about the personal needs of so many of her students. She felt the holidays magnified those needs. This was obviously frustrating for her and she asked me about why our society doesn’t do something better to meet people’s basic needs. She believes if those basic needs were met, we would be in a better position to do our jobs as educators.
The teacher’s questions are challenging and the answers are complex. I remember asking a similar question many years ago to a principal that I worked with in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. The poverty in Appalachia was overwhelming and there was very little help available to most of the folks there. Beyond an education, our public schools provided many students with the only food, medical services, and the opportunity for change, that they would ever have. Sound familiar? All our high schools had private showers, washers and dryers for students to use to clean up as many had no running water or electricity at home. I was helping some special education teachers wash a load of students’ clothes one day when the principal, Mr. Moore, walked up to check on us. In the same vein, and for all the same frustrations as I was asked by our teacher, I asked Mr. Moore why our society didn’t do more to help these student’s families and then let us do our jobs in the classroom. I have never forgotten what he said and to this day; it is still my simple answer to that difficult question. He didn’t hesitate for a moment. He said, “Our society did do something for all of those families. They sent them you. You and all these people working with you are the answer. Make it count.”

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