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On being authentic…and why it matters

Authenticity. It is a remarkable characteristic. And when that authenticity is combined with humility and grace, the possibility for greatness is within reach. And what of greatness? Is it defined by how high the reach or how far the circle of influence? How much one is lauded? And how often?
Often, the student becomes the teacher. And in this way, the student leads the way to greatness. Leads the way to greatness because of their authenticity. Because of their grace and humility. Through their strength of character. And although the scope of influence might be very small- it is influential nevertheless.
When I am duty teacher, I often experience my greatest teachable moments as an educator. I get to see students as their authentic selves. I see them at their very best. And although at times, I see them behaviorally at their worst, those times are few and far between. Usually there is a story behind the difficult behaviors: one that helps to explain why things are as they are. In all, interacting with students during their free time has been for me one of the most rewarding experiences of my career as a teacher. There are times when I have taken groups of students aside so as to facilitate them in solving their own personality disputes. Watching these students talk through their own problems has been a teachable moment for me, proof that students are their own best teachers. At other times, I have had the pleasure of watching students work cooperatively in a game or physical activity. At times, I have walked with students having difficulty connecting in play with other students. In finding these students their special niche, it has been rewarding seeing those same students who once ended up getting in trouble turn things around so that they were able to assist me in caring for students’ needs and requests.
Recently, I was involved in a duty incident in which I had to settle a dispute between two students. And do so quickly. Tensions were rising, along with voices and blood pressure. Mine primarily, as I knew if I was unable to cool things down quickly, there would be some serious concerns on my hand. As I quietly lowered my voice and tried to separate the students involved, I realized that one of the students had lost something which he wrongly was accusing another student of taking. As I had not been there when the incident in question went down, I was grasping at straws to figure out how to help these two students solve their issue. In the meanwhile, I petitioned the rest of the class to help me in finding the lost item, hoping to buy myself some time.
As I was rounding up my search and rescue effort, one young girl approached the boy who had been crying initially- the one who believed his desired item had been stolen. And completely unprovoked by me or any other prompting, she quietly said this to the boy:
“You can have mine. I have one of those (item that he was looking for) too. You can have mine.”
Her response was authentic. There was no glory for her in doing this, as no one could hear her over the din of the class, save for him or me. Furthermore, her response had been gracious. She was willing to forgo keeping an item if it meant one of her peers would be in distress. And her response was done in humility. She could have kept the item for herself- what it was, that particular item, was in hot demand. It was something everyone else in the class had been given as a token for Valentine’s Day, and each one of the children in the class had been enjoying that particular item during indoor recess. But this one little girl decided that it was not about her- it was about the greater good. It was about making someone elses’ day a little brighter. And she chose to place her own wants and desires on the back burner for the good of the other. She chose to be authentically graceful and humble.
And when I think back to this incident, as I have several times this weekend, I find myself believing that this child has much to teach me. For she has begun her journey toward greatness. She is well on her way. And too, when I think of whom I admire most in my own circles of influence, it has been the people with the most authenticity. For they are authentic in the ways in which they interact with others as well as they have been consistent in their own character. These people I admire most, they are gracious. Humble. Compassionate. And they have been my greatest life teachers.
And isn’t it interesting how many times, those people who’ve influenced me the very most have been children. We as adults would do well to listen closely to the teachers placed in our lives to keep us humble and authentic: our children. They have much to teach us about life and humanity. And we have much to learn.
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