The M&M’s are yellow and blue and green and orange and red against the purple-brown of the sensible Minstrels. They sit in a sparkling glass jam jar and the bright colours cheer me up almost as much as crunching the sugar shells into pieces.
In school this afternoon I discussed heroes and influence with twenty or so thirteen year olds. Their heroes are vibrant football players, established musicians, Mark Zuckerberg and Mother Teresa, Brian O’Driscoll and each other. I could identify some influences, had never heard of others. I was happy to see how many students mentioned their parents as people of influence in their lives.
Earlier today I was kindly told by a student that if I wanted to scream because of his behaviour, it was okay. “Go ahead and scream,” he said. How kind of him. I politely declined. He then proceeded to tell the class how he imagines that when I go home from school, I open the door and scream. And then I beat up a cat. I think I raised an eyebrow. This was quickly followed by earnest questioning about whether or not I had a cat. I sensed concern from some that it may be somewhat insulting to ask a young woman if she does in fact have a cat. I usually resort to aloof and snippy statements when I am out of my depth like this, but my coldness had no effect whatsoever on this group. In fact it only fuelled their agonising debate.
With my first cup of tea, I stood at the door of the house in the blustery midland weather and thanked the Lord that I was looking out on rain and not drought, safe garden walls and not imprisonment, scattered plant pots and not litter or rubbish or needles. Thanked the Lord that I was tired from a job, tired from the privilege of being employed.
My tea is strong and tastes of home. I make a second mug.
I stood in front of a fifth year class today, totally unprepared. I completely messed up a spontaneous explanation and had to tell them to forget it. It was so embarrassing. I could feel their eyes smiling at my defeat. But they weren’t really. And then one said, “It’s okay to make mistakes Miss, that’s how we learn.” She grinned, because she is usually the one on the other side of the exchange. And I sheepishly smiled, because I am not used to being exposed and embarrassed. And I muttered to myself as I walked out the door that it didn’t matter and I didn’t care. But it did matter and I did care. And because of that I decided I didn’t. But deep down I knew I really did.
I had a lesson with second years that went surprisingly well. They listened. They did what they were told. When we discussed our learning about the breathing system, they eagerly asked if they were improving and behaving the way I wanted. They apologised and spoke quietly. They laughed in comradery rather than as my jeering enemies. I held a stopwatch and they counted breaths per minute. Listening to their own breathing calmed them, I think.
What amazes me most about teaching is that in one afternoon I can experience the full spectrum of being embarrassed and being affirmed, being patronised and being admired, being defensive and being openly human. I can feel overwhelmed and then hopeful, feel utterly out of place and at the same time deeply rooted. I can experience complete failure and an hour later, sigh with the relief of success.
I’m just one person and this was just one afternoon. It was such a very human and imperfect performance. Such an ordinary, unspiritual experience and yet… I wonder how they would have reacted if they could have heard the silent storm inside. I was praying through every hour of it. “Come into this room Jesus, I need you here. Calm the kids Lord, I can’t get through to them. Go before me Lord, I am so nervous. Touch this group with your presence. Make them stop the messing Lord. Help me to have courage. Give me wisdom. I’m nearly out of patience Lord, I need patience quick!” And it comes and He comes and they never know the difference but when it is all over and I stand at the threshold with the rain throwing itself at the collapsed washing line and the trellis coming away from the wall with each gust, and I feel I should fall apart along with them, I don’t. His strength was made perfect in my weakness. My weakness is a glorious opportunity for me to see the power of Christ rest on me. So when I am weak, then I am strong.