Emily Dickinson is my all-time favorite poet. Not sure why, actually. I just like her.
The other day I used one of her poems to begin a class discussion on why we read literature. I was trying to get my kids to grasp the concept that reading literature allows us to form a sense of community in a world of diversity.
The line I focused on was from "Tell All Truth but Tell it Slant," and it reads, "Success in circuit lies." Using the necessity of connection in electric circuits to create a successful current turned the figurative light bulb on within my students, and I think they grasped the point. We rely on each other. Regardless of our perspectives, our backgrounds, our neighborhoods, we all must connect in some way to successfully coexist. When there is disconnect, there is darkness.
The power of connectivity inspires Jeremy White, too. He's a math teacher at Veterans Memorial Middle School, but his understanding of a successful circuit wasn't realized through a poem. His was realized through a little girl named Jessica.
He was 5 years old when his sister, Jessica, was born. She was born with severe mental disabilities, and her medications caused a compromised immune system, so the White family was frequent visitors to area hospitals. The curious older brother sat at the feet of Jessica's doctors, asking probing questions in a desperate effort to understand what was happening to his younger sister. His inquisitions were met with patience, understanding and answers. The time and effort the doctors took to help settle his worried heart allowed him to be a better big brother to Jessica.
Jeremy recalls the many opportunities to interact with children his age who were patients alongside his little sister. He noticed varying degrees of compliance among his new buddies. He would ask, "Why do you do what one nurse tells you, but not another?" The typical reply from his ill peers was, "Because she talked to me about what I do when I'm not in the hospital."
Even as a young lad, Jeremy understood. Some nurses chose to nurse a patient. Some chose to care for a patient. The slightest difference was noticeable even to these innocent minds.
Jessica's big brother grew up to choose a profession that parallels the nurturing nature of hospital personnel. He became a teacher, but not just any teacher. He became a teacher who began his career already established in an impressive concept. The concept of connectivity.
For Mr. White, teaching is "not only about imparting knowledge, but about imparting wisdom. Wisdom comes from life lessons, and students often learn these from examples. Therefore, it is paramount that my students see me treat everyone with kindness, patience, and admiration for what each person can contribute.
Our lives are all interconnected, so we must try every day to build each other up. Through caring for one another, we learn from each other."
Such a wisdom can be presented in the many young lives, like Jessica, who are forced to learn quickly how to navigate through the challenges of life's difficulties.
When we can grasp the concept that caring for each other can bring us a connection that is unparalleled in success, we can start to progress as a school, a district, a city, a nation.
It starts with taking a little time to forge that connection with the person beside us, whether that person is a sick little girl, a sixth grade math student or a corporate boss.
Jeremy White says he teaches now because of Jessica. I want to be a little more patient, a little more kind because of her, too.
Sheryl Green is an independent contractor. Contact her at email@example.com