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Why I Will Never Write an Essay Entitled 'Why I Choose to Teach'

Oct 08 2011

The other morning before the students arrived in our classroom, I told my classroom assistant, "I finally discovered my call in life.  I'm meant to be Andy Rooney's replacement.  Think about it:  He sat in front of a messy desk and complained for a living.  I'm a natural."  You see, the day before had been a rough one in middle school.  It seems our 13 year old charges were more interested in striving to see who was the class clown and discussing the upcoming soccer game than they were in the importance of Twian's use of dialect in "Tom Sawyer". 

So, the next morning, I dreamed of replacing Andy Rooney instead of facing self appointed adolescent comedians one more day.  But, at 8:00 AM, I still hadn't heard from CBS, so I had to face the mob.  While I wanted to put them in their place and threaten them within an inch of their lives, we decided, instead, to role play a scenario in which Kristi tried to tell a story to the class, but I kept interupting with jokes, oneupmanship, and random observations ("You have a triangular shaped head!")  Then we asked the kids if they found me annoying, and pointed out that's what they often did to us.  For the rest of the day, the students were excellent! 

Moments like that are so encouraging when so many days leave me wondering if anything was accomplished.  It caused me to think about other victories.  There was the e-mail from Olivia ten years after I had been her teacher.  In part, it said, "I attended OVCS for 2 years, and although I fought you most of the way, my education and experiences there help shaped the person I am today. This is a long shot and I'm not sure if you update this blog frequently, but I thought i'd give it a try. Rick, you are an inspiration to every young person who wants to have a voice for themselves. I just wanted to thank you for all that you have taught me."

Alex, a student from just a few years ago , sent me this: "Sorry I didn't let you know, but the high school had a talent show tonight and I did my juggling.  I was the last participant and did a routine in the dark with 3,4, and 5 illuminated balls. I dropped them a few times but I made it flow. I didn't expect to place at all but I got 1st.  I was really surprised. Kids I knew not that well congratulated me and said it was amazing and such. So I thank you so much for bringing juggling to my life, it was my first real kind of talent that I stuck with and wanted to improve and improve. Never could of done it without you, am very grateful."

There's another former student named Katrina.  We met in my class in 1995 when she was a seventh grader.  In 2009, I had the privilege of walking her down the aisle to give her away at her wedding. 

I met Jennifer even longer ago.  I was her resource teacher when she was seven twenty-three years ago!  Now, at 30, she has a Masters in History, works at Colonial Williamsburg, and still looks us up every time she's in Maine. 

More recently, Lauren was in my class last year.  She was under the impression that Christianity was a matter of rules and conformity.  One day she said to me, "If this is Christianity, I don't want any part of it!"  I replied, I agree."  We started talking, praying, and studying the Scripture.  In a few weeks, she gave up trying to act like a Christian and fell in love with Christ.  A year later, she is an awesome example to peers and adult of what it means to be a child of God. 

Two of my current students, Erik and Joey, have joined with her to make gift boxes for homeless people in Portland this winter, and they're getting a lot of support for their project.

Of course, my most memorable students have been my own daughters, Jo and Naomi.  Both girls talk about their middle school years as being pivotal in their intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth.

Then there's Josh.  I taught him from sixth through eighth grades starting in 1995.  He is the closest thing I have to a son; He proposed the toast at our 25th anniversary party.  At his wedding, three other former students; Rachel, Sarah and Dawn, joined my daughters and me in the parking lot to juggle together for about half an hour.  Even the groom joined in the juggling session and had to be reminded after a while that there might be someone inside waiting for him to come back to the reception!

Now, this year, I have a student bringing her chicken to school, another his bullwhip, and a third his pogostick, all asking to find a way to integrate these items into our class ministry, LOL.

But it's not just these joyful memories that came to mind the other day.  There was the young man and former student who came to visit me just before turning himself in for a crime.  There have been four other students who I have met at various times when I've been performing in local jails and prisons.  Each time, there came to see the show, and were quick to tell their friends that they knew me when they were kids.

I take a lot of comfort in these stories when the day to day challenges of teaching leave me exhausted and frustrated.  But I'm not going to say these are the reasons I teach.  If I had my preference, I'd spend my days juggling and enjoying my family and never go to work again.  Before you start thinking, "Tha't's an awful thing to say!"  haven't we all played the game "What would I do if I won the lottery?" Or "What would I do if I was born into royalty or the Kennedy clan?" 

But, I am not a royal nor a Kennedy.  I have not won the lottery, and CBS hasn't offered me a career in public complaining. So, as long as I'm living in this fallen space and time, sandwiched between the twin utopias of Eden and Eternity, there will be work.  In Genesis, when God confronts Adam for his sin, God tells him, "From the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread."  In other words, it's biblical that our work should be a hard and exhausting.  Theologically speaking, work in meant  to be a pain in the butt. 

So, if it's not these heartwarming testimonies, why do I teach?  Because, as an idealistic 17 year old, I chose to major in education.  Because, at 49, it's awfully late to start another career.  Because, if I have to work, teaching certainly allows plenty of time to  work on performing and directing summer camp, which may be my true callings in life.  Because there's nothing like walking into the gym and seeing the air full of clubs, knives, diabolos and rings as my students master their own juggling skills.  Because God has put me here and He knows what He's doing. 

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The presentation was fun and encouraging... The gospel message was clear and encouraging. I purchased your book and just finished it. Your scope is broad and again encouraging. May God continue to bless your ministry. I will encourage others to read your book. -Parishioner of a local church

"Hey, I  wanted to say that was a great message in chapel today! It touched something:) thanks for doing it!" -High School Student  

"We are so grateful that you brought your amazing ministry back to our church this year... The Gospel message you bring applies to all!  It is such a positive, valuable work that you do."  -Coordinator of Christian Ed. UCC Church

"There's no questioning it. This is powerful stuff. It's extremely touching at times, never less than entertaining, and I see a lot of sincere love for Jesus in you guys."  -Dwight Lilies, song writer

The Lord has given you a wonderful window through which to present the Gospel!   - Field Director of Alliance Missions to Paraguay

"What a wonderful ministry to both children and adults.  In past years it has been a struggle to arrange programing that would hold the attention of all ages, but also challenge each heart with God's gift of Salvation.  Thank you for sharing your ministry."  -Sunday School Sup't.

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