Do you remember being fully engaged in something; so much so that time escaped you?
Like the first time you read a Harry Potter novel and didn’t realize three hours had passed because you just had to get to the next chapter and see what happened?
Or stayed up to watch the midnight screening of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace at 12:01 a.m. on May 19, 1999 because you couldn’t wait to find out how a 10-year-old becomes the biggest bad guy in the universe—even though you had to go to work the next morning?
Or watched the semi-final state soccer game at Soccer Park with the entire student body to cheer on the soccer Spartans and realized that the game was over no one had scored?
This engagement is what it is like to be a teacher and a student at De Smet Jesuit…to be so caught up in something that time flies and details blur…or to be so enthralled that you slow time down purposefully and celebrate fractions of a second.
I am not a runner. I never have been.
My favorite t-shirt from cross country and track says, “My sport is your sport’s punishment.” That’s how I feel about running. But not Coach Bryan Traughber.
For 13 years I coached with Bryan on the track and field team, and I watched him encourage his athletes to overcome their mental and physical obstacles. He is a demanding coach; yet, he celebrates every single victory his athletes have. I’ve seen him celebrate a tenth of a second off a personal record. Imagine a tenth of a second—it takes longer to snap my fingers.
For 10 years, he has managed to draw his former athletes back to campus to run, starting one of the longest running alumni traditions at the school with the Alumni Fun Run. He reminds his current athletes where they can go and his former athletes where they’re from through their shared experiences. Together they run in maroon and gold, enjoying their passion…and then some pizza.
For Sean Cavanagh, an English teacher with roots in theology, engagement is more peaceful.
In a significant way, he asks his students to be entirely engaged while remaining completely quiet for a few minutes in his class through meditation.
He calms them down and instructs them to be present in the moment while they internally put their days, lives, and thoughts in order. His meditations are a brief time of wholesome thoughtfulness that invites our students to be fully engaged in the moment.
We ask our students to be engaged every day at school; to listen and act and accomplish prescribed tasks. As teachers, we have the opportunity to share what we love in the classes and topics we teach. When we engage with students in this way, we invite them to live with us in all that we do and accomplish.
During my time proctoring the Innovation Center, I watched a Latin 4 class come alive when asked to translate an Ecclesiastical Latin letter into modern English. I never took Latin, but I observed these Latin scholars pour through dictionaries and online sources to translate this letter with a unique dynamic fervor of scholarship.
To say that they were focused is an understatement, and they enjoyed every minute of it. This grueling dissection of an ancient language excited these inspired men. I asked Ms. Schmidt what this exercise was for, and she said, “For fun.” They did not receive a grade, it was a puzzle for them to solve and they relished the challenge.
When I worked on my master’s thesis on Homer’s The Odyssey, I would bring any new concept I discovered into my classroom and share it with my students.
I’m sure they thought I was obsessed with this ridiculously old epic poem, but I couldn’t help myself.
Later in my career I became obsessed with superheroes and designed a class based on mythology and American culture. I mined my mythological ideas of The Odyssey and applied them to American superheroes. Now I share them with my new classes in a different form.
Enthusiasm increases engagement. As we get excited about our subjects, sports, or projects so do our students. Whether it is cheering on a team, solving challenges, pausing to be fully present in the moment, or sharing our passions, we engage because we love.