Lessons on Life from Inside the Classroom
July 1, 2004
Dependability, consistency, clarity, perseverance, patience: all of these are essential to a successful moral and civic life. Often education in these traits is relegated to the home or the capable hands of life experience, but I have discovered a class room in which all of these are taught. I began attending this class once or twice a week when I was fifteen, and in the past seven years, though my teachers have changed, the quality of the instruction has not decreased, so I continue to go. The class is located in the back corner of the basement in a church. I generally arrive early to read, prepare and wonder what valuable insight my instructors have for me today. I greet them as they arrive. There are the regulars, who come every week, and often there are new faces for me to adjust to with new teaching styles for me to understand. The average age of my instructors over the years has been three years. They come every week so I can tell them stories about Jesus and Noah, Abraham and Adam. I try to explain to them the principles of the Bible and then they teach me how to apply them.
One of the first lessons I learned was dependability. It is very important that I be on time, that there is some level of consistency between classes and that my actions outside the classroom are consistent with those inside. If these children come to see me on Sunday and I am not there or if I am late and rushed, they understand that I do not have time for them or that I do not view my time with them as an important part of my week. If my lessons are sporadic and I am not prepared, they understand. And they know it is not important for them to spend time listening to something that I did not take the time to prepare for. Also, if they see me outside of class and I ignore them, or they overhear a type of language I tell them should not be used, they remember and my reputation is tainted. Earlier this year, I went to California for an eight week internship. I began telling the children several weeks in advance where I would be, when I would be back, and who would come to stay with them in the mean time. They were worried. They didn’t know if I would ever get back from a place so far away. I realized, yet again, that these little boys and girls do not come every week to see a Sunday school teacher they come to see me. Just knowing that someone would be there was not enough. They needed to know where I would be, what I would be doing and that I would keep my word and come back when the eight weeks were up.
I believe the most important lesson I have learned is the importance of clarity. If I do not tell the children lies, that is morally good. But if they do not understand the truth I tell them, what is the use? The most profound reminder of this came to me in the form of a little boy who had been attending for only three weeks. He came to me with a picture of Jesus’ baptism and asked, somewhat belligerently, “Is this supposed to be Jesus?” I told him yes and began to explain who John was and what Jesus was doing. I realized I had missed the point of his enquiry when he interrupted me with, “Well, what’s he doing in the water? I thought you said he could walk on top of it!” What he was not questioning whether Jesus was doing the right thing or whether the artist had portrayed it accurately. He wanted to know if I had been honest with him on a matter that is so unbelievable. Though I had not lied to him, I had been unclear in explaining Jesus’ ability to walk on water and this caused him to question my integrity.
Often the children try my patience with their continual diversion from my plan, their penchant for touching what should not be touched, and their seeming inability to understand that sharing is also a good thing when they are the one with the toy. I am amused by their long tales of last week’s trip to grandma’s house and amazed by their rhetoric when they argue their cases after a disagreement. I learned sometime back, that they direct the curriculum and the flow of conversation to a greater degree than I do. In showing them the principles their parents bring them to me to learn, I often have to wait patiently for a teachable moment and not worry if what we learned today is not what was in my book. I know that the benefit I gain from interacting with these tiny people is often greater than the impact I will have on their lives. Though they may forget the stories and the songs, I will never forget their lessons. Though they come to me with cries of “teacher,” I know they are mistaken.
Beth Gostlin is a senior from West Salem, Ohio, majoring in History and Political Science.