Sunday, January 22, 2012

What's it all about, anyway, 12?

Finding a Direction and a Compass - Again

Self, Late 80s, early 90s
I've long given up the idea of the straight line with respect to personal development.  Both in my personal and professional life progress is not made in steady increments in a forward direction; even in small increments in a forward direction (only).  Personal development seems to happen in a spiral fashion, rather like a spiral staircase either up or down.  Working in the Asperger's unit we keep good files on the personal, social, moral, intellectual and emotional development of our charges.  The ones on whom we spend most of our time are those with EBD problems, that is, those with Emotional Behavioural Disability.  It is a slow process, so slow that sometimes it is hard even to determine if any progress has been made at all.  You think you have made a step forward only to find the student has taken two steps back, or so it appears.  However, we persevere as a team and progress is made, often in millimeters as one visiting tutor from the SESS told us.

Likewise, in my own personal development with issues which I wish to tackle like my weight control, my Blood Pressure, areas of my mental health, I often find myself undoing the good I may have done previously, or at least, that is the way it appears to me.  Oftentimes, I have found my development to be rather circular, rather than in a straight line.  Hence, my reference to circular movement, and yet circular movement isn't good enough either for me.  That's why I have suggested the metaphor of the spiral staircase because although it seems you are going round in circles you are in fact moving either up or down.  This personal metaphor - I haven't seen it written about anywhere, but no doubt it is, because I believe there are precious few new insights under the sun - often consoles me because when I find some seeming regression, I say to myself: "perhaps we have gone deeper or higher, and let's be patient because movement is not quite apparent now, but it may be later."  This is how I console myself with regard to my sense of my own personal development as well as my sense of my professional developmen,t and indeed the personal and educational development of my pupils.

Now, my heading refers to finding a sense of direction and a compass - be it personal or professional.  I have written before in these pages that my direction was always towards teaching, either at second or third level.  The last few pages indicated that I veered some little bit away from that direction and then veered back again to that main direction.  It was as if by taking a scenic route or a diversion here or there to assure myself that I was on the right course was at play in my life as I look back like the traveller who has reached the top of the mountain and views his seemingly meandering ascent.  In fact my belief in my vocation as a teacher has deepened if anything.  While I may teach Mathematics, SPHE or Meditation, Communication and Language Skills, I believe that it is the encounter with the student as other that is the primary focus of my teaching.  A good teacher is a teacher who connects with his/her class, establishes a rapport or a relationship of care with them; in other words has a presence in the class.  Now this is the context.  Indeed, today after some thirty two years in the profession I'd argue that it is the only context in which any teaching worth its salt can take place at all.  The task of education is a triple one: We seek to (i) inform (ii) form and (iii) transform our students in order for them to reach their full potential in life.

And Death walks hand-in-hand with Life

Self, sometime in the late 80s
To be a living being is to be a dying being in reality.  Plants and animals all die.  It's hard to believe that any plant or animal can or even should go on forever.  That would defy logic and commonsense.  All the little set-backs and failures we experience in life are really little deaths which we have to undergo if we are to make any personal movement towards self-integration or individuation as Carl Gustave Jung put it.  Anyway, the next ten years of my life after I had left Religious Life saw the deaths of many uncles and aunts and of my father, Thomas Quinlan, who died a wonderful death at the age of 79.  He took a minor stroke after having undergone a routine operation and lasted just about two weeks.  My mother, my brothers and I used to go in to feed him during his last days in Beaumont Hospital here in Dublin.  Anyway, before he was taken into hospital for his final sojourn there I can remember his being very upset and confused, and his confusion was his fear of dying because he felt he might have sinned too much in life.  The poor man had lived a very innocent life in fact.  What had bothered him was the negative, judgemental and guilt-ridden Catholicism with which he had grown up.  Thankfully this style of Catholicism is long since dead and  gone.  Anyway, once he was in hospital he settled down and an amazing calmness came upon him.  I believe it was the acceptance that it was his time to leave this world.  A couple of days before he died he kissed each one of us goodbye and told us he loved us.  None of us was there when he finally passed away.  A young nurse who was very upset at his passing as it was her first experience of losing a patient, told us that his final words were, "It's a lovely day."  He died on the 13th Feb. 1993. 
1993 was a turning point for me as I had now lost my father, a huge link with my past.  I knew instinctively that middle age was ahead and that I should make the most of my middle years.  I was 35 when my father died.  As the clay poured down over his coffin, I found myself saying to myself, "I must put that S.T.L. to rest by finishing it.  I have mentioned this post-graduate degree before.  I had it more than 2/3 finished when I had exited the Augustinian Order and had achieved very high results in the course work, 100% of which I had completed, the only part not finished was the thesis.  I remember driving out to meet Dr. John Macken, S.J., wonderful scholar and one time president of Milltown.  John agreed to my completing this degree, and he facilitated this personally by supervising my thesis himself.  I dedicated the work to my father.  The final examination for the S.T.L. which is a pontifical/Roman degree is a two part oral examination where (i) one sits before 3 lecturers, one your thesis supervisor, the other the reader, and the third the extern who question you on the syllabus of courses which you studied for the degree - the taught element of the course, (ii) again one has to defend one's thesis before the same three individuals.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was duly awarded the degree of STL in October 1994 with first class honours at the age of 36 (See here Theses).   To this day I attribute my successful result to my father.  My argument here essentially is that something had moved or changed in me allowing my mind or heart to be clearer about what I really wanted in life

Death is a reality we all have to encounter inm our lives.  Alas, poor Dr. John Macken, S.J., who was made president of Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology shortly after my conferral was to die all too young within a year of his appointment to that role.

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