Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Where Angels Fear to Tread (not about the book) (09/08/11)
TITLE: Going Where Angels Might Not
By Tom Parsons
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I had already spent twenty-five years as a pastor, and now, at the age of 54 as I was, God had called me to teach in junior high and high school. I had conducted funerals, performed weddings, counseled with people who had problems I didn’t know existed until they brought them to me, wrestled with deacon boards and led people in business meetings when they weren’t all that convinced that I knew what I was doing. Let me just say, all of that is a piece of cake compared to standing in a room full of teenagers, trying to teach them how to read, write and spell correctly when they are totally convinced that reading, writing and spelling are obviously inventions of the devil, straight from the pit of Hell, and it is the devil himself who is standing before them in the persona of a slightly graying, slightly overweight, slightly nearsighted, and totally evil teacher.
It was my job to convince them otherwise. Right. Fat chance of that!
It took awhile. It took a long while. Most of that first year, in fact. I had two problems. First, I was rusty on my grammar. I knew how to use proper grammar; after all, while a pastor I had written several short stories and articles that were published in a denominational publication. But identifying predicate nominatives and locating modifying phrases and clauses were a challenge to me that first year. I tried staying a couple of weeks ahead of my students, but junior high students can smell incompetency like drivers can smell a dead skunk a mile ahead in the road.
My second problem was that I was rusty on my students. I didn’t know them very well, either as individuals, since I had just met them at the beginning of that year, or as a biological age group. I assumed they would do what I told them to do without complaining or balking. Did I learn differently that first year! “I’m never going to use this!” they insisted when confronted with my latest brilliant assignment. “My parents are going to kill me when they see this “D” you gave me. You’re so mean.” “I’m going to tell my parents how unfair you are.”
Gradually I developed a thicker skin, a greater ability with my subject, and a more knowledgeable approach to my students. I learned to like them, which I didn’t at first. After all, they took advantage of every opportunity they could find to hurt my feelings.
I came across an assignment in some publication I read, and adapted it for my seventh grade students. They were instructed to interview either one of their parents, grandparents, or some other relative. The only requirement was that they must be adult, employed family members, or retired from employment. My students were to find out how the adult used reading and writing and proper grammar in their occupation.
“My dad works in construction. He never has to write anything,” one student said. “My mom is a nurse. She doesn’t have time to write,” said another. “Maybe so,” I said. “You ask them then write the results of your research in a one-page paper.”
Needless to say, every parent confirmed that he or she had to read, write and use good grammar in their work. Every one. I never found an exception. So, later, when they complained about never having to use what I was teaching them, I could say “remember that assignment where you asked your parents how they used writing in their jobs?” They would groan and say, “we remember.”
Over time I came to appreciate and love my students, and I believe most of them returned my feelings for them. I grew more confident and comfortable in the classroom, a classroom I occupied for nine years, until the school closed. I was 63 years old, and so I retired to devote my time to writing.
It is true, after all, that God often calls upon His servants to go beyond their comfort zone into new areas of ministry to others. And sometimes He does ask us to go where even angels, we might think, fear to tread.
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