I Hear the Questions Surface in My Mind
So it was an epic fail by all accounts. Yep. A Sunday School lesson designed for 5th and 6th graders, lead by yours truly, a high school teacher, did not stand a chance with the one 5th grader, 2 third graders, a 5 year old, and a 4 year old who were sitting in front of me. I thought it would be fine, since I’m used to modifying on the fly, but I didn’t realize how differently those younger minds would react to what I wanted them to do.
Of my mistakes that I have made
It was a simple thing, really. I read the directions from my curriculum quickly then handed everyone a piece of white copy paper. Now draw a time when you were sad. Okay, in the spirit of being honest, a little warning bell did quietly go off in my head here, but I ignored it. Please add more details. Don’t just draw your Grandpa Ralph or your pet dog, both of whom are now in Heaven. Add the grass, sunshine, windows, curtains, bedspread, and so on. Yeah, I did. We had already read the Bible story, so now the point was to learn that God takes our sadness and makes something new and better or beautiful from it. Great lesson. Poor execution on my part. After coaxing more details out of the young students in front of me, I did the next step and directed them to do the unthinkable. Now please tear up your picture into several pieces. We’re going to use another piece of paper and glue to make something new and better! The five year old, eyes brimming with tears, said what they were all thinking, “But I don’t want to tear up my picture!” Neither did the four year old. One third grader was already starting to cry as she drew the picture of something that made her sad (duh). The other third grader was cutting her picture into four squares. My 5th grader was playing with the glue.
Times and places I have left behind
Okay, so I can still make this work. My partner each Sunday is an elementary principal, so she can usually help me avoid the land minds as I navigate my way through a lesson, but she is also the person responsible for counting the attendance for Sunday School and church. She had drawn a wonderful example of how to use details in your picture, so I grabbed it. She’d left the room to go count and had no idea what I was up to in her absence. See? Watch me tear up Mrs. Robyn’s picture. More tears. Turning to the 5 year old who was clutching her picture, tears streaming, I suggested she use the pieces from Mrs. Robyn’s picture instead of tearing up her own. I let the 4 year old tear up the half of her white sheet of paper that she hadn’t used, leaving her picture in tact. I suggested the 3rd grader who was sad about her dead pet try to finish coloring, instructed the other third grader that she would need more than just four pieces to make something new, and then asked the 5th grader, “What in the world are you doing with the glue?” Mrs. Robyn returned and was stunned to see her picture in pieces, two students crying, one gluing white pieces of paper to another white piece of paper, the other 3rd grader gluing the four pieces of her picture back together exactly how it had been, onto another sheet of paper, and the 5th grader with glue everywhere.
And am I ever gonna make the grade?
So I failed. It’s easy to see how and where I failed now, in retrospect, which got me thinking. Our school system is a lot like this. One teacher, after hearing my story, said it captured what elementary was like perfectly. A day doesn’t go by without tears, somebody not following directions, and glue everywhere. As I thought about that, I realized there was an even bigger metaphor here. The same is true of the adults at school. There are always tears, somebody not following directions, and our glue everywhere is the initiatives and programs we try in order to solve our problems. We don’t need more glue. We need to effectively use what we already have. If we don’t have enough time, then rethink how we can use the time we do have. Rethink the space, the schedule, and anything else that seems to be a road block to students learning at high levels. Take the torn pieces of our system and rebuild it into something new. Yes, there will be those who refuse to tear up the picture and those who are sad just thinking about the memories the picture invokes, but we can’t let that stop us. To quote Dr. Eric Thomas from his recent keynote at the Spring CUE 2019 conference, “We can. We must. We will.” Our students deserve our best. Let’s give it to them.