This has been a most difficult week for those of us living in Israel. I taught one of the boys, who were kidnapped, for two years. When we realized what had happened, one of my thoughts was, did I give this boy anything that could give him courage during such a horrific and unspeakable trial? Do our students leave our classes with, not just skills to pass exams, but have we inspired them? Have they taken away something from our lessons that will give them comfort and support in times of hardship?
Our relationship with our students, our behavior towards them, is probably the most important “package” they will take with them from us. Did we show our students respect? Did we listen to their ideas and praise their accomplishments? When we had to criticize did we do it with sensitivity and guard against embarrassing them?
Creativity in our teaching expresses our love for what we do and our passion to impart something special to our students; during the time we share together. It is, according to Michele Shea, “seeing something that doesn’t exist already and bringing it into being…” And so I asked myself this week, if through my love of my students and my love of words, was I able to pass something essential and relevant to my student who now had to gather up all of his strength and resources to combat the evil of his tormentors?
I cannot obviously answer this question and perhaps I am expecting too much from myself and my profession. It is, however, important to ask ourselves these questions as educators. Therefore, this week I searched for some words, not my own, to share with my students; words that empower, words that influence change, words that give comfort. William Ernest Henley wrote the poem “Invictus”, which means unconquerable, in 1875 and published it in his first volume of poems in 1888. It is a difficult poem for most of our students to read and to understand; although one of the teachers, in the course I taught this year on the literature module, created a beautiful unit for the poem which she is happy to share.
Why “Invictus”? The answer lies in the last stanza, “It matters not how strait (narrow or difficult to pass) the gate, how charged with punishment the scroll (the pain we must endure), I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul”. There are many things in life that we are not able to control; however, there are many choices that we can make, even under the worst circumstances, because our Creator has endowed us with an “unconquerable soul”. Our students will understand this; even though Henley wrote these words almost 140 years ago. The hope is that whatever tests they come across in their lives, they will be armed with the love we gave them, the words we taught them and the passion we imbued in them for learning, growing, contributing and living. Above all they will believe in themselves and the gift that each of them carries their “unconquerable soul”.
We are all praying for the speedy return, healthy and whole, of our kidnapped boys; Yaakov Naphtali ben Rochel Devorah, Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim and Ayal ben Iris Teshurah.
By: William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.