Reflecting on the Seventh Characteristic of Jesuit Education: Intending Excellence – The Magis.
The Jesuit system builds confidence, a good sense of self that should be related to concern for other people. At Morning Prayer if a student, maybe as young as 13 or 14 has achieved something, (such as winning a sporting award) he is invited to address the whole school. I am so struck by the confidence of these young men. The school is asked to recognise their achievement, and often they will speak without a note: it’s great to see them able to do this.
They also grow into a rooted concern for others, and this at its best is seen as a modest way of being. It is not arrogant, it is built on a belief in the mutual worth of the person in front of them and it carries over to their involvements after they leave school. A good example of the quality I am thinking of would be not long ago, when I was out in company, some past pupils came over to say hello. Among them was a lad who has gone on to play rugby for Ireland. They shook hands and he gave me his name, and the Accountancy class year he was in, as a reminder. Of course I recognised him, but I admired the considerate way he did not expect everyone to know him: it was done very nicely.
In a boarding school naturally pupils are strongly influenced by the school but are also greatly influenced by one another. They learn a lot from each other, they stay in touch with one another. They are affected by Jesuit education, even if it is not delivered by Jesuits anymore. But I think the staff understands what the school is about and they try to deliver on that. On the macro level the school tries to articulate what a Jesuit education is, and what the school is about. However, with the day job, the teaching, it’s a sub text and you try to integrate the Characteristics with your subject matter on a daily basis, and demonstrate them through your teaching method.
‘Intending excellence – Be terrific!’ I like those phrases. I remember giving the Morning Prayer to the boys earlier this year and I was dissecting the prayer of St Ignatius. Taking the idea of ‘to labour and to seek for no reward’ (we should have difficulty with that, from a social justice perspective!) I said that this translates into being nice to others, doing small things like holding a door open for someone. Courtesy is much underrated, and it should not be either gender or age related – you should hold a door open for anyone, or stand when anyone enters a room. Politeness, respect, saying ‘thank you’ – all of these are small mannerly tributes to other people to show them that you see them, that you respect them. The boys are good about that. I ask them to settle for being extraordinary – that they are all extraordinary and we should try to be as extraordinary as possible.
I suppose I would want a new teacher to know that we believe that students are individuals; that they deserve the same respect as adults do – they are definitely not the enemy! Respecting them, you as a teacher have to be prepared to say that you don’t know everything. A sense of humour really helps to engage with them, when in the early days you are nervous on the discipline front. I find now if you are can be relaxed and allow things to develop, more emerges, and you have a better engagement with students.