Nil homini certum est.
(Ovid, Tristia 5.5.27)

Nothing is certain for the human being.

(Pron = neel HOH-mih-nih KEHR-toom ehst)

Comment: Admittedly, this is not a cheerful thought. But, if we work with what
it represents, it can be fairly freeing. It will disturb us first, though.

I work in an environment (education) where the majority of the adults do what
they do based on an expectation of certainty. I could write pages of examples
of the expectations that teachers bring to their work every day—expectations of
certainty—but suffice it to say that the majority of things that teachers are
upset about on a given day all boil down to how that expectation of certainty
did not work out!

I suspect this dynamic is found among other professions as well, and among
adults in general. Children learn this expectation from adults quickly.
Children will work very hard to supply the adults around them with the expected
certainty. Those who pull it off become neurotic students. Those whose lives
overwhelm them, who cannot pull it off, become skeptical children who
frequently check out of the process.

Ovid, once the charming poet if not mischievous poet of the imperial court,
found himself, at the end of life, in exile for having offended the emperor.
Rather than spending his retiring years in the Rome that he loved, he spent it
in a foreign city writing “sad things”. He understood that nothing is certain
for human beings.

Because nothing is certain, we can choose to begin every day with an openness to
what will come. The day will take its shape around what comes. We can be
certain of nothing but the surprises! The students who walk into my room today
bring the universe with them. Lesson plans are what I have prepared, but the
students are who I have to work with. The alternative is to insist that my
lesson plan rules the day (that certain is mine because I have planned well),
and to insist that students, regardless of what is happening in their lives,
conform to my lesson plan. It can be a pretty cruel process, but it is one
that happens thoughtlessly in millions of school rooms every day.

Even as I write this, I have had to place a bucket by the front door—heavy
rains, and an unexpected leak in the roof! Today’s activity includes, now,
calling a roofer! Hmm. Not in my lesson plans.

Bob Patrick
(Used with permission)
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