Monday, October 30, 2017

God Will See.

Last year, I gave my then-sixth grade students a test on verbs. Admittedly, this is harder than it sounds, as this unit covers everything from transitive and intransitive verbs to progressive forms to perfect tenses and everything in between.

The results were abysmal.

That might sound mean, but it is true. The students knew it, and so did I.

Through no fault of their own, they really did not have a foundation in grammar, and, as they admitted to me this year, they were mostly guessing on the exams.

Yes, I mean exams, plural.

The students took one verbs test the regular way. Then took the same test open book, and some students did even worse the second time. Finally, some were given a copy of the test to take home to work on, in an attempt to help them understand the concepts.

It was a low point in a year that was marked with struggles, which these particular students have worked really hard to overcome.

Fast forward to about three weeks ago ...

"All right seventh grade, we're going to start a new grammar unit today. On verbs."

Ten stricken faces.

"Verbs?"

I told the students that we were going to forget about what happened last year. They had a foundation now, and they had worked hard. We were going to start over.

I started teaching them the verbs unit again, the seventh grade version this time, in much the same way I taught it to them last year: a mix of notes, examples, activities, and practice sheets. This unit is long, and I could tell we were all getting stressed as test time loomed closer and closer.

Until finally ...

"Your grammar test on verbs will be Thursday, October 26, guys."

Thursday, October 26 came. Fourth period. Ten kids took their seats. Everyone took one deep breath in and then let it out. They started.

I monitored this exam more closely than any other in the past. I stood over the students, watching them work. Sometimes I'd stop and see a student having chosen the wrong response. Please change it to E, change it to E, change it to E, I'd think. I'd make a round around the room, come back to that student, and find that she had changed it to E. Slowly, the finished exams started trickling in.

I super secretly took out a note card and copied the answer key from the master book onto it so that the students couldn't see that I was grading their tests as they handed them in. I looked at the first one, and I panicked as I saw that this student was getting EVERY QUESTION WRONG. Imagine my relief when I realized I had accidentally used the sixth grade answer key and not the seventh grade one.

Shew.

I looked at the first test, then the second. Then the third and the fourth. The fifth. The sixth. Class ended, the kids left. I kept looking.

When I graded that last test and wrote 88% at the top, I sat back in my chair and realized ...

They had passed. All of them had passed.

I cried. I couldn't believe it.

And all I could think was T-E-A-C-H-E-R.

At the end of September we had a professional development session where my principal had us watch a video of a speech by Jonathan Doyle, who was speaking on the role of the Catholic school educator (but I really think his message could apply to a lot of different positions and careers).

It changed my life.

Jonathan Doyle said that, as educators, we have to own our purpose and understand that there's a reason God has put us where we are. He said we must understand the story we're really in. Meaning, we can tell people that our job is teaching English, or we can tell people that we are partnering with God Almighty to raise His children.

WOW.

He referenced the movie A Man for All Seasons, in the scene where Sir (now Saint) Thomas More is talking to Richard Rich. Basically, Rich wants to be in a position where he's highly visible and highly regarded by others.

Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher. Perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: lf I was, who would know it?

Thomas More: You! Your pupils. Your friends. God. Not a bad public, that.

Interestingly, I received an email this morning from a priest friend of mine, in which he recounted this story:

Have you ever wondered how Michelangelo finished his masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Was it really that he accomplished these paintings by himself alone?

Quoting Michelangelo himself: 

"After four tortured years, more than 400 over life-size figures, I felt as old and as weary as Jeremiah. I was only 37, yet friends did not recognize the old man I had become.”

Working on scaffolding was physically demanding, and Michelangelo created image after image on an ever increasing scale. He eventually exerted all the power of his mind and spirit, using themes and motifs from past sculptural works in his glorious fresco masterpiece. The four-year ordeal proved physically and emotionally agonizing for the reluctant artist… Perhaps what has struck me the most was his response when someone asked him why he was so serious painting those images even on parts of the ceiling where no one could notice. 

And I also asked myself, “Yeah, why bother to exert your effort to paint something that eventually only a few could notice?”

Michelangelo’s reply to that inquiry was:

God will see.

Jonathan Doyle also said that God comes to us disguised as our life. Everything matters. Just keep going.

His point? We're doing much more than teaching. He quotes C.S. Lewis:

"God claims every square inch of the universe, and Satan counterclaims it."

We're in a daily battle for souls, and our classrooms are the front lines.

Doyle said that God Almighty could show up in our classrooms next week, of course He could He's God. But if God doesn't show up in person, how will our students experience God? It's us. It's teachers.

God, make me a better teacher today than I was yesterday. And help me to remember that the things I do and say to my students have eternal consequences. 





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