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.

Time stopped.

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!
Love, Becky

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


Susie said...

What a touching story Becky! I would never have been brave enough to teach teenagers.. let alone stand at the door! And you are absolutely right.. so many bad things are caused by fear. I find myself saying all of the time "I am afraid that..." I am trying to let go of the fear of failure and the unknown but there is an element of control in keeping the fear.

Glynn said...

It's a great reminder -- don't leap to conclusions; don't decide by what you think you see.

Angela K. Nickerson said...

As someone who spent years teaching high school English, I know this feeling all too well. And I think you are right, those haunting memories are bits of fear come back to us again and again.

ToddR said...

I thought I knew all your stories! Thanks for sharing that one.

Sharon said...

You were open to being taught by a (relative) child. That is a gift, too. Thanks for a beautiful story and, for me, a timely reminder.

Faith Hope and Cherrytea said...

what's coming to my mind is a vs from isaiah regarding the fear of humankind being a snare...
while love sets free ~
both the other and ourselves.
once i realized the amount of grace i needed, i began to understand that is how i am seen by God. and how i am called to see others ~ with that same grace-filled understanding.
but i won't have grace to offer until i've received it!
i think too it can be a desire for recognition by others [ol' pride] raising its ugliness that does the 'one up' stuff over others.
comparison & feeling 'less than' because of lies we've bought into.
quick work done to defeat that thinking if we ask H Sp for God's perspective ~ how God sees us & the other person.
not anything like we've been thinking ! ;)

Anonymous said...

proThanks for sharing, Becky. I cried as I read this because I hate it when kids make fun of those with a disability and I, myself, have been guilty of judging too quickly such as when I am in a hurry and not thinking why someone may act the way they do. I remind my kids too also give the benefit of the doubt when someone acts strangely. sometimes our students are the ones who are actually teaching us! Tammy

Laura@OutnumberedMom said...

This was a great reminder for this teacher, Becky.

Think before reacting. It's not all about control. Think the best of one, not the worst...all things I need to be reminded of.

(Do you miss the classroom?)

Locusts and Wild Honey said...

Oh wow. I have so many moments like this in my life that I torture myself about. Thank you for sharing one of yours.

And I agree. Usually when I'm afraid, I fear the worst--and accordingly, behave the worst.

Amy Sullivan said...

Wrestle with control? Who me? Always.

Sometimes when things are at their worst and I realize I control nothing, I am actually at my best because I'm able to see God and not myself.

Roxane B. Salonen said...


What interesting timing. I have been put in the position of having to make some difficult decisions in the last couple days. I have had to challenge myself on the fear factor. What is motivating me? Where is God in all of this? I have felt His love rising up within me, helping me be strong at a time it would seem difficult to do so.

As for your "mistake," God has already forgiven you, and I'll bet Dan has as well. I have no doubt that once you realized the truth of it, you treated him fairly and with love.

But boy, some of those lessons come hard, don't they?

Thanks, as always, for being vulnerable with us.

Angie Muresan said...

Sometimes I do. Particularly after a long day or a sleepless night.

What a wonderful story as example for us all to never assume the worst.

Rebecca Ramsey said...

I love your comments, y'all. Hugs and kisses for everyone.

Alise said...

I'm so sorry I missed reading this before I did my list of good stuff I'd read! This is absolutely beautiful and had me in tears.

Fear makes me crazy. I've only really started working on this issue in the past few months, but I know that it just locks me up. I've been trying to remember that love casts out fear. So if there's fear in an area, I'm missing out on an element of love in that area. And a lot of time, it's simply being willing to love myself that is missing.

Thanks for a lovely post!