Friday, August 13, 2010
Welcome to Chemistry Class
Flickr photo by oooh.oooh, creative commons
So much can happen between two people in a split second.
Walls can materialize or fall, Jericho-style. Each person can step out on trust, gingerly placing a foot on the water, or refuse to get out of the boat, clinging to the suspicions she's secretly believed were true.
School starts Monday here, and a classroom memory has spent the week fluttering around my brain, begging for attention. It was one of those pivotal, split second moments, one that doesn't exactly make me proud.
Perhaps you've had a moment like this. Sometimes I've stood at the fork in the road and chosen well, and other times, like this one, I haven't.
I was teaching chemistry at a high school, and it was the first day of class.
I decided to start the year by doing a strange thing, strange, at least, to the other teachers and teens at my school. At each change of class, I stood outside my door in the noisy hall, and as students tried to duck their heads and dart into my classroom, I stopped them. I introduced myself to each student over the din and asked his name, welcomed him to the class, shook his hand, and showed him where to sit according to the seating chart on my clipboard.
Within seconds, a long line of young men and women had formed outside my door.
"This is weird." "Why is she doing this?"
Why was I doing this?
Partly to welcome them to my classroom. Partly to show my respect for them, the respect they got for free, respect that I required back. Partly to show dominance. I'm in charge of this class. It is my home (thus the curtains on the windows and the flowers on my lab table.) I will respect you, but you must act like ladies and gentlemen in my classroom.
The teens watched me, watched their friends interact with me, waiting for something to happen. I knew this was strange for them. I expected that a few would try to amuse each other, tell me their name was SloMo or DreamBoy, or tip their hat in fake formality, cushion the awkward earnestness of my handshake with sarcasm. I'd experienced it many times before and had learned to meet it head on, to set a businesslike tone on day one, friendly enough, but firm.
So far, the kids had been great.
Then a tall, red headed boy to the front of the line, his eyes sparkling with mischief.
"I'm Mrs. Ramsey," I said, thrusting out my hand. "Welcome to chemistry class."
The boy shook my hand, a corner of his lip turning up, as if he were about to spring something on me.
I waited for his name. He said nothing, just kept on shaking my hand. What was he doing?
"Now, tell me your name."
"I..I..." he said, looking hard at me. "My..." His mouth was open but nothing came out. Kids behind him snickered. "Go for it, Dan," one boy said.
What kind of a joke was this?
I could feel my body tensing, anger rising. So he was one of those, huh? There's always at least a couple every year, needing to impress their friends. Start things off by showing me what a pain they'd be until I wrestled them into control.
Other kids were watching. I'd give him one more chance to straighten up.
"I believe I asked for you to tell me your name."
More open mouth.
"Now." I barked, my voice dampened by the noise of the hall.
The student squinted his eyes at the floor, "Da Da Da Dan," he said. "Dan At At At Atkinson."
My heart jumped into my throat.
What have I done? He was stuttering.
He wasn't being rude or a smart aleck. He was struggling with a speech problem and I had exacerbated it, calling attention to it in front of everyone.
"I'm glad to meet you, Dan," I said, trying to recover, wanting to shrink into the linoleum. "You're in the third row from the door, 2nd seat."
Dan was doing his best, and I had assumed the worst.
Over the next few weeks, I quickly learned what a lovely person Dan was. I still think of him from time to time and wonder how he's doing.
I'm not teaching this year, and I think I've grown a lot since then. (At least I hope I have.) So why has this memory been haunting me this week? Is God trying to tell me something?
Maybe it's all about fear. Fear makes me do things I regret. It makes me hold tight to what I have. It keeps me from being generous, from going for the life God has for me. Fear stunts and shrinks. It keeps us from loving others and fully experiencing God's goodness.
Or maybe the memory is about the fallacy of being in control. We're not in control of anything, really. Just our own selves, the way we react to others, the choices we make to love or not to love.
God, help me let go of control. Free me from fear and the way it binds me.
What about you? Do you wrestle with fear and the need to control? What helps you?
Have a wonder-full weekend, y'all!
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18