I recently visited Ireland on a family trip with my wife Marie, her two sisters and one brother-in-law. It was an amazing trip and we visited several areas of a very beautiful country.
I also had the opportunity to visit my ancestral home in Killinchy, Ireland in County Down south of Belfast. I found a Presbyterian Church built in 1739 that included a cemetery with several generations of McCanns. I brought my great aunt Adella’s research of our family history, dating back to the early 1700s in Killinchy, Ireland. In 1792, my great, great, great, great grandfather brought his family to America from this small village in Northern Ireland.
While I was standing at the gravesite reviewing our family history, a woman approached our group. She explained that she saw us at the McCann grave site and, since she is also a McCann, wanted to see if we needed any help or had any questions. As it turns out, we are probably 5th or 6th cousins as we compared our families’ histories. I am already in contact with her daughter and we are sharing information to determine common relatives. It was fate that we had this chance meeting.
On the return flight, I reflected for several hours about this chance meeting with a stranger that turned out to be a relative. I recalled a book by Dawna Markova titled I Will Not Live an Unlived Life: Reclaiming Purpose and Passion. I strongly encourage you to find and read this book (click here if interested!). It is very inspiring and meaningful.
The one thing I remember from Markova’s book, and that I was reminded of on my recent trip to Ireland, is the concept of family. Markova tells us that we all have relatives that have been working for generations to make our lives better. My relatives worked very hard to make my life better in 2017 when, in 1792, they made a decision to leave Ireland and travel over the Atlantic Ocean.
At the time, they did not realize they were working for me – their great, great, great great grandson – to find success. I do feel them standing behind me each and every day encouraging me and my children. Markova reminds us that we are doing the same; we are also working for our grandchildren and their children, many of whom we will never know, and helping them to find success throughout their 80+ years.
I then reflected about my 30 plus years as a teacher and educator. I realized in our jobs as teachers, educational assistants, principals, custodians, maintenance experts, and food service staff that we are also building upon the legacy of Westside employees who, for the past 70 years, built a positive culture of excellence in District 66. We are standing on the shoulders of great people who never knew us but worked very hard so that our careers would be successful and meaningful.
We, like our predecessors, are working for future generations of students, helping them to find their path, and to be prepared for life after their PK-12 schooling is complete. We do this, not because of recognition or awards, but because we want to make a difference. We are working for future generations that we will never know. Today’s kindergarten class is the senior class of 2030, and I am pretty sure that I will not be preparing commencement remarks for their graduation. Like you, I work today for future generations of students that I will never meet and it is what gets me up every morning to come to work.
Education is a relational profession. We are like parents and these students are “our kids.” As a parent of five children, I know how much teachers have done for my children and their current success. We do “pay it forward” in our profession. We have generations of great teachers behind us, and we do work for learners we have never met. I once spent four days with Margaret Meade’s daughter, Catherine Bateson, and she told me “…if you want to leave a legacy get a kid in your life.” Our profession allows us to impact the future long after we are gone from this world, just like my great, great, great, great grandfather James McCann and grandmother Elizabeth Sibbett McCann did for me during their lifetimes.
Blane K. McCann