Friday, February 12, 2016
I've spent the better part of two weeks in another world. Sometimes I need to poke myself to make sure, but I'm still alive to talk about it. Wise old men crowding 70 love visits from darling grandchildren but should otherwise stay the heck away from raucous kids, especially in roving packs.
But like a fool, I said yes when local teachers asked me to come in for a week--that's right, a week! Snow days turned sojourn into a siege of nearly two weeks, so when I finished, I honestly thought that school owed me another retirement party.
If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I'd go with fifth grade. Maybe sixth. Seventh is tougher, and eighth worse--no reflection on the kids I was with. Fifth graders have cow eyes, and, unless I was dreaming, they actually listened to every word I said.
The little ones haven't learned to doubt, so they're not human, they're kids. Their untrammeled dispositions seem so insular that distractions don't exist. When Christ told the disciples to stop corralling kids--"Bring 'em on," he said--he probably wasn't talking about 13 year-olds. He had the little guys in mind, the ones with monster eyes.
I think I'd like teaching those kids, but it wouldn't be good for me because I'd become, forthwith, a Calvinist Jim Jones. All great teachers, I suppose, are on the prowl for disciples; all great teachers grub for groupies because they want kids to listen, and when they do--like those fifth and sixth graders I visited--it's really a profound joy.
And then comes puberty.
Ages ago, I wrote hundreds of meditations for the kids in schools where morning devotions were part of the ritual. A real theologian picked out passages from the Bible, sent me summaries of those passages, and it was my job to make all of that biblical knowledge fun and fascinating. He was the preacher. I was the entertainer.
I determined, early on, I wasn't cut out to be a preacher, so I thought I'd take a Sabbath every seven days or so and weave a little story through the entire volume so that readers, like the writer, got a break. I titled that little serialized story "Jesse's Escape." It featured a kid who got himself in trouble and took off on his motorbike.
My own kids weren't quite middle-school-ish at the time, so I had no idea whether what I'd written was going to go over or not. I trotted that manuscript down to the local Christian school and talked one of the teachers into giving it a test drive.
"They love 'Jesse's Escape,'" he told me, months later--"well, some of them. If they've hit puberty, they think Jesse's way cool. If they haven't, they don't like him. If they haven't, he's just plain naughty."
Aye, there's the rub. Puberty. The difference between fifth and eighth, methinks, is that somewhere in those years those big eyes stop looking at the teacher and start looking at each other, making them unsure of almost everything, including, most importantly, what their friends think about them.
Long ago, I taught in a city high school where every Friday all 15 of us English teachers would get together and say the kinds of vile things teachers do about the kids they love. And hate. We let off steam ritually--cussed about epidemic laziness, swore about kids who could give a damn, confessed our own shortcomings by wailing on kids who that week triggered our failure. Friday afternoon, once the rooms cleared, we'd blow off steam.
And then, once it would grow into conflagration, someone would say, "Hey, listen, we could be teaching junior high," and just like that the grumbling would cease. We'd feel blessed.
Last week, those grade-schoolers weren't that bad, not at all. There were moments when I felt almost Christ-like--"Suffer the little children to come unto me. . ."
Well, some of 'em.
All in all, I'm glad I did it.
But let me tell you once again about the blessings of retirement.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:07 AM