“Yes, Sojourner, what is it?” Sitting at her desk, red pen poised over someone’s notebook, the teacher smiled up at me. “Do you have a question?”
“Uh, well, kinda. I was just looking at all those names and checkmarks over there.” Both of us followed my outstretched arm and extended index finger.
“This time yours is not on the list. Are you happy about that, Sojourner?” She was laughing with that special tenderness so a part of Miss A.
“Uh, I guess so. I mean it’s good not to be in trouble, right? But, well, I, er, would like to try something.” I hated it when I stammered and struggled to just get on with my request. My feet shuffled under my bowed head’s view. Then I heard my father’s reminder echo in my ears, telling me to look him in the eye when I asked for something. It would show I was serious. Straightening up and meeting Miss A’s waiting visage, I barked it out like someone had hit me on the back. “I want to put my name on the list and add 50 checkmarks to see if I can make up the time before the report cards are due.” There my request for self-imposed detention was airborne.
“Well, I am a bit surprised at such a request. Why would you ever want to do such a thing?” Miss A had put down the pen and clasped her folded hands on the notebook, as she waited for my reply. She had not laughed so that was good. She was curious, not angry.
“I just want to see if I can do it. I wouldn’t want to stay in every recess but I could stay after school and help you clean the boards or something, if I’d already finished my homework. May I do that, please?” My brow was furrowed, both eyes squinting a little, as I held my breath for her answer.
“Well, it’s an unusual request, to be sure, and I would still add my own checkmarks to your name if you misbehaved, Sojourner; but I don’t really see a reason to refuse your request. I tell you what, I’ll write your name and the number ‘50’ next to it. Then you will be responsible to change that number each day of your competition-detention; but, if the checkmarks are real detention, I’ll put my own checkmark next to your number. That way if you change your mind about this contest you want to do, you can erase your number but you must still make up any of my checkmarks for the real detention before your name is erased. What do you think? Do you want to do that?” I was nearly jumping with joy as I felt my shoes take me to the door and out of the building. Once outside, I whooped a great release of excitement, jumping in the air … the competition was on!
As I neared the close of the six weeks, I began to stress because I had whittled down my number a lot but I also had four of Miss A’s checkmarks after my number. I had decided that I would clear my number first and then the real detention marks to give me the added incentive to hang in there. As you might have imagined, I was with Miss A a lot over those weeks. I did go out to recess once a day, instead of twice and I took only fifteen minutes for lunch. Most of my time was made up after school. My father worked until 4:30 and my mother until 5:30, so didn’t mind the time I spent after school. As is often the case with marathon-like competition, the most effort is needed at the end when quitting sounds so much better than making the final effort to cross the line.
Finally, it was the very last day and I had only two checkmarks and my name to clear. I had forgotten my name represented fifteen minutes when I was calculating my time, though, so it lasted that much longer than I had planned. Still, I made it; I had finished before the six weeks. One great point was I never had to take work home after school since I did it all there!
Perhaps the greatest thing my competition brought to me was a real awareness of just what a fine person my teacher was. A committed Christian lady, I watched as she encouraged those kids sitting out detention instead of going to recess every day. Some of the kids resented the detention but, it seemed to me, that these were the very kids who needed it the most. Oh, not for the work they would get help doing but for the kindness and gentle touch of a woman who truly cared how they were doing. No one ever said they liked detention but there was no doubt everyone liked Miss A! Until she went home to be with the Lord somewhere in her 90’s, Miss A helped kids in her own home learn to read. The Bible says that there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for another. Miss A certainly, gave her entire life for all of us kids.
****Authority Figures: Teacher, Mr. B… Coming Tomorrow