Any teacher (especially high school teacher, I think) will tell you that "special" moments are not exactly a common thing in our everyday classrooms. You know, a cluster of students gathered around you, soaking in your wisdom, while violins play in the background and you recreate a scene from Boy Meets World with Mr. Feeny. But every now and then, you get the opportunity to really share your heart, and I had one this morning.
Things have been crazy at school these past several weeks, with the snow days, schedules thrown off, and some personal tragedies happening in a number of families. It's just been kind of yucky, and add in your typical discipline issues and I'd say we've had a pretty challenging winter. But there's a class of mine that I've really seen some growth and maturity in over the last year, and while they certainly haven't "arrived," they're getting there, and I'm proud of them. I've been wanting to tell them so for a while, but it's not really the kind of subject you bring up between sentence diagrams and I have the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old, so... I didn't really know how or what to say it. (I'm really good at being light and so awkward when it's time to be serious.)
But the Lord laid a story on my heart (I'm not a television preacher- He really did!) and it just so happened to coincide with our literature lesson (again!) so I first assured them that I had not taken any "happy pills" this morning and then told them I had a story. I'll share it with you as I did with them.
Our story from last night is about Helen Keller. We all know Helen Keller was blind and deaf, and we know that she eventually learned to read, write, and speak, but can anyone tell me the name of Helen Keller's teacher? (Naturally, they couldn't.) Helen Keller's teacher was a woman named Anne Sullivan. She was brought to teach Helen a new system of reading for the blind, called Braille, when Helen was about six years old. But the Kellers, who had no idea how to handle Helen or reach into her dark world, had allowed her free reign of the household for all those years, and she was a little monster. Before Anne Sullivan could teach her anything, she had to break her will. The Kellers, and Captain Keller in particular, were horrified at what they considered Anne Sullivan's cruelty toward a child who could not understand their language, but Anne Sullivan was firm.
Finally, weary of their interference but confident in her methods, she insisted that she have time alone with Helen to work with her without distractions. Since the Kellers were wealthy plantation owners, they owned a small bungalow on their property where Helen and her teacher could stay. They were given one week together. During that time, Anne Sullivan, who was teaching Helen sign language first, desperately tried to think of a way to make the connection for Helen between the words she was spelling into her hand and the things those words represented. She could spell "H-e-l-e-n" over and over, and Helen, a natural mimic, could copy the movements perfectly, having no idea she was naming herself. Anne Sullivan knew that connecting the movements and words with concrete images was the breakthrough Helen needed.
Finally one day as their week came to a close, they were walking through the garden together and came across a fountain. Anne Sullivan, seized by a sudden idea, grabbed Helen's hand and thrust it under the water, letting it pour over her hand and all the while spelling into it, "w-a-t-e-r, w-a-t-e-r" over and over again. It finally dawned on Helen that the cold, wet feeling on her hand was the same thing as the letters being spelled. Anne Sullivan described it as "a flash of electricity" that shot through Helen as she immediately began laughing in delight and demanding to know the names of everything around her. In that moment with the water, Helen got it.
Guys, that's what I'm doing here. I want you to learn grammar and spelling and literature, sure; that's my job. But if I don't love you and try to make you into good people, I have failed you. And you wonder why I'm hard on you and why I demand your best, but it's for you. We teach you about God and the Bible and Christianity, and day in and day out we spell these words into your hands. And whether it's today, or tomorrow, or this year or next, we want to be part of the moment when you connect the words in your hands to the water that is Jesus Christ and you get it.
I just want you to know that I'm proud of you, because things aren't easy and I know your lives and families have problems. I know your friends don't always stand for right. But you guys are making good decisions. You're slowly learning that doing right is worth it. The light is coming on as you connect the words and the water and you are getting it. I don't just see you as kids who don't always do your homework or study long enough for a quiz. God doesn't either, and I (try to) see you how He does. I see you in ten years as nurses and businessmen and leaders and good people who have made this connection. You made sense of the motions, the words, and put actions and reality alongside them and now they aren't just something your mean old teacher ranted about- they're your life. That's what I want for you. If you never walk out of here a grammar expert, that's okay. It really is. There's more to life than that.
I know you roll your eyes when adults talk about your "potential" but you guys really have it. You have limitless potential. If you live what we're teaching you about the Lord and his righteousness, if you're making that connection and "getting it" then there is no telling what He'll do with it and with you. And I'm going to keep spelling into your hands and I want that connection between what I teach you and what you experience for yourself to grow even stronger. I don't tell you enough, if ever, but I am proud of you. That's it.
And yes, I cried a little bit. But it's all true. And I love these kids, and I'm slowly coming to realize just what all of this is about, and it isn't English. The most important words that I can spell into my students' hands are about the Savior of the world. And the most unbelievably rewarding thing I can experience as a teacher is that moment of connection, when the lights come on and the words have meaning.