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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Nuggets from High School: English

     “We’re going to begin studying one of Shakespeare’s plays…” Mrs. Olson’s *announcement was interrupted by an entire classroom of groaning 15-year-olds. “Wait until I finish telling you what we’re going to do.” Skeptical, doesn’t come close to describing how we reacted. Must be tough to teach adolescents!

     Choruses of whispered “Bo-o-oring” could be heard but the teacher continued as though she hadn’t heard.

     “I’m assigning parts for each act of the play so you’ll prepare to read your own part. We’ll first discuss the background for the play so you can get an idea of what led up to the scenes.” This was, definitely, a new approach to reading Shakespeare… we would be the actors. Now, that sounded like it had potential. She was right, we would need to know more than which lines to read on the page if we were going to understand how to read them. Suddenly, Shakespeare didn’t seem so boring anymore. Herein began my personal love of the works of Shakespeare.

Later in the year
     “Sojourner, I’d like you to read over this bulletin and consider writing a story.” Mrs. Olson handed me a copy of the little newspaper-like journal distributed to students, periodically. I had loved the Junior Scholastic publication throughout the younger years in school but didn’t really pay much attention to it now. She pointed to an announcement, calling for students to enter a writing contest.

     “Me? You think I should write something for that contest?” No doubt my shock was evident. She really couldn’t mean me, could she? I wasn’t a writer. Her smile and slight laugh confirmed she had meant me.

     “Yes, I mean you. You have natural talent; I can see that in your compositions. If you will write a story for the contest, I’ll see that it gets sent in.” No one had ever told me they saw any talent in any schoolwork I ever turned in. Music, okay, I’d been told I had talent by the band director in junior high school, who let me just go ahead and teach myself to play as many band instruments as I wanted to learn, but academics? Never! I just figured my work was satisfactory but nothing special. Now, the English teacher was saying that she thought I had the potential to write more than to just fulfill homework assignments. This was a revolutionary concept to me.

     Did I write the story for the contest? To tell you the truth, I can’t remember. What I did remember over all these decades is that my English teacher believed in me. She thought I could do it and that was a defining moment in my adolescent life. One day, I would write a book and put her name on the Dedication page. Well, it took a while but this happened in June of last year with the publication of Dealing with Our Fears when Letting Go Seems Impossible. It’s been 48 years since that wonderful day when Mrs. Olson suggested I should enter a writing contest; I remember it as though it happened this morning. You just never know how your words will impact your students, eh?!

     Over this past year, I have read the dedication pages of other books and have been blessed to read other new authors dedicating their book to their “sophomore English teacher.” A lot of us waited a fair bit of time to heed the advice of the English teacher, as evidenced by the fact that the writers group I joined this year has many middle aged folks just beginning to write articles and books. Seems like God also knew it would take some of us time to actually use the gift He had given us. His Word assures us that it is there whether we use it or not; He’s not going to take it away.

Romans 11: 29 “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable”

     So what earthly good is reading Shakespeare? Well, besides the pleasure of well-written verse, the above episode awoke in me the seed of how to read the Bible with understanding. If I could actually read and understand Shakespeare, I could use the very same method to read the Old Testament and understand it. Even today, this is the way I read the more difficult portions of the Bible. I first try to get a grasp on the scene’s background. What was happening at the time and what was the purpose of what I was about to read? How did that event affect the people involved and why did God write this into His Book? In effect, I learned to study the Bible by learning how to read Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s words may decay and not be remembered as this world comes to an end, but the Words of the Almighty God will never decay; they are of eternal benefit to me! That’s why God’s Word encourages us to study the Bible and apply it to our lives.

     The Apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy in his second letter, as follows:

 Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (King James version of II. Timothy 2:15)

    Or, if you prefer more modern writing, the New King James Version:

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

     Is it really all that important that we learn how to read and understand the Bible? The very next chapter in II. Timothy, answers that question for us.

II Timothy 3: 16-17: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. “

     Sounds to me like it rather hits every situation where I might need some good advice and direction.
Certainly, I do want to be thoroughly equipped for every good work!

     In addition, I find I just love to read the Old Testament. I am certain my sophomore education in reading Shakespeare directly contributed to the joy I find in reading the Bible. One can’t really enjoy reading something, one doesn’t understand, right? Mrs. Olson bridged that gap for me so I can read both with joy and understanding. I am so grateful to God!

*The name of my teacher was changed to Mrs. Olson some time after I was in her class. In addition I have taken the liberty to put words in her mouth here as I cannot recall her exact words but the gist is correct.

****Nuggets from High School: Career Guidance?... Coming Tomorrow

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