Potential — a wide open future — is the image of young children walking to school.
I, a retired teacher, was driving to the train station for a trip into Boston, passing through the neighborhoods at a time when I once would have been heading to school myself. Streams of children made their way toward another day of learning and growth.
Potential, of course, is a relative thing of many directions and distances. Potential is shaped by many forces — genetics, home environment, quality of school, peer groups, medical complications, accidents, acts of kindness, acts of ill-intent, connections to the right people, hard work, pure luck, persistence …
But, at least to the outsider driving by, the potential loomed so grand in the smiling faces of two young girls, backpacks stuffed with books, happily chatting on their way to school.
Perhaps this was the high point of their day. Perhaps it would come in school. Perhaps it would be the recap of the day on the walk home. Or a phone call in the evening.
A young boy, without books, approached the school from the opposite direction — on a skateboard — with, one would suspect, a different potential. But one never knows what burns within, what passion is kindled within school or, as is often the case, from an outside source.
I passed the parking lot, filled with the cars of teachers whose job it is to identify and nurture the potential. Some young people are already racing down a path of excellence, and we as teachers almost stay out of their way. Others will need a little nudge, whether in instruction or guidance. With others, a deeper bond will be necessary to bring out a belief in potential. With some, stand-by patience will allow potential to emerge in the future.
A teacher orchestrates the lives of young people, knowing, of course, that outside factors both accelerate and sidetrack the process.