It is a neat and tidy room with a large conference table and chairs in the center. There is some room around the outside of the table for a computer desk and some other thin tables against the wall containing the vestiges of a continental breakfast. A five- to six-foot attractive logo of the school dominates one white wall and a large Smartboard dominates the other. The windows allow for some bright sunlight to flood the room.
Five of us are working on the documentation of our accreditation visit. As we work through the various sections of the document, ideas and recommendations flow freely from the members. This school has done excellent work, but we have ideas to make their plan even better. I am trying to hear these spoken words and create recommendation statements from them. I am writing long-hand with a pencil because I feel that using a computer takes me out of the conversation. Looking at people’s faces, rather than a screen, gives more insight to the meaning of the conversation.
Writing long hand-may be my preference in this situation, but it means I no longer have the protection of instant spell check or grammar notifications. My paper doesn’t have a red squiggly line appear under my misspelled words. I feel like a circus performer without a net.
I am lucky to have an English teacher as part of the team and begin to bounce my less confident spelling and grammar in his direction. I explain to the group that when I write, I can sometimes hear my wife Joy’s voice in the background. She warns me of the possible pitfalls in my writing. It is part of being married to a language arts teacher, I explain.
A member of the team observes that I must have left the seat next to me open for Joy to read over my shoulder. We all share a laugh. My children hear their mother’s voice when they write as well. It helps keep them on track and focused.
Joy is my “writing conscience” because she is always willing to provide me with truth about my writing. I still sometimes use “good” instead of “well” in a sentence, but overall it makes me a better writer. (I usually just say that someone did a good job to avoid the difficulty)
A few weeks ago, our school community went to Mass on two occasions during the week. We went on Ash Wednesday and on our usual Friday morning. Why? We went twice because I could hear my mom saying we shouldn’t miss Mass on the first Friday of Lent. This is another voice that guides my inner conversations to make better choices.
We all need those inner voices with us that guide us to the truth. We need to hear voices of virtue that push us to be our best.
Part of our goal in school is to create constructive voices in each student’s head — voices that push the internal conversations to be conversations of consequence. I can imagine some of our current students hearing Mrs. Miller guide them through the toughest math problem in second semester calculus at their chosen university. They might hear “señora” as they try their first words on a visit to a foreign land. Perhaps they can hear Monsignor Ken’s reassuring voice after they have made a decision that just doesn’t sit with them in a good way. Even better, they hear the voice of Christ as they pray before the Eucharist or hear the Gospel like they did in theology class and at Mass.
Those voices come from influential people in their lives. The best voices speak with love and honesty.
I also stop for a moment and wonder, “What will both my biological and my school kids hear in my voice?” Am I having meaningful conversations with them that will help them years from now? Am I providing the kind of example that encourages firm convictions and morals?
I pray that I am helping them as they further their education and through the complexities of life. I pray my voice echoes with many other voices guiding them to virtue and the best version of themself. Each of us needs to embrace those voices of truth in our minds and to provide that voice for those we love.
Local columnist Jim Tokarsky is the St. Paul High School principal.