For the past several days, I’ve been staring down a class attendance sheet…and a stack of homework papers awaiting review.
This is a profound mystery to me, because some 42 years ago – after a spectacular flame-out as a “graduate teaching assistant” – I vowed never again to inflict my deeply flawed pedagogic techniques on a roomful of unsuspecting students.
Simply put, teaching is not my gig.
While I don’t generally take a literalist’s view when reading scripture, I’m more than happy in this case to apply Saint James’ exhortation as an eternal and immoveable truth:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, for we all fall short in many respects.
James 3: 1-2
And yet, here I am – serving as part of a teaching team for the spring semester. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the idea. For proof, consider the fact that I’m blogging about teaching…rather than doing something truly useful, like reviewing the homework sheets that keep staring me down. (Maybe later today, I’ll clean out the garage, too. Been meaning to do that for a few dozen months now…)
I keep thinking, how the heck did this happen? How did I wind up standing in front of a classroom…after having spent decades studiously avoiding any such entanglement?
The answer, I suppose, has a lot to do with where I’ve agreed to teach: Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (a.k.a. “the prison in Pacific, MO”) Regular readers of this blog won’t find it surprising that I find prison work appealing, and spiritually fruitful. You could say I got snookered into a classroom deal…before I fully appreciated what I had agreed to do.
And guess what: Those “unreviewed homework sheets” notwithstanding, I find I have been deeply blessed by my classroom time as the young semester continues to unfold. The class itself has a lot to do with it: Houses of Healing, it’s called – essentially a 13-week course in emotional wellness. My inmate-students are also a huge part of the blessing, I’m discovering. They are such eager learners, even when we present meditation-based material that strikes them as decidedly “WHACK!” (as one so memorably put it).
So yeah, look who’s teaching now…
Look who’s surprised to find he’s enjoying the gig, at least most of the time.
Look who’s marveling at how the Spirit works, to loosen even long-held beliefs about personal competency.
Saint Paul, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t be surprised by any of this. In the passage from 1 Corinthians we hear proclaimed at Mass, he observes:
If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God…
“Become a fool:” Seems like I’ve got that part down pat, anytime I step in front of a classroom of students. But maybe it’s exactly where I am meant to be, as I wrestle with the seemingly impossible challenge Jesus gives us in the gospel reading this week:
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Perfect, in my foolishness perhaps. Perfect in my desire to allow God to use…and heal…my imperfections.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.
The best way to learn something really well is to have to teach it!