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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Catechism: Teaching Hot Dogs

“Did Sister Mary Margaret* say that our entire class is made up of thirty kids no other teacher will allow in their catechism class? How can that be?” Liz’s simultaneous gasp and rocketing eyebrow arches, matched my inner struggle, evidenced only by a stunned silence. “Sojourner, how can we do this? We don’t know a thing about teaching delinquent kids, let alone ten-year-olds!”

“Well, Liz, look at it this way: We can’t lose. It’s a win-win situation for us. I mean, if we can’t do it and fail, well, every other teacher did, too. They’re probably expecting us to fail. However, if we can do it, we will do something that none of the other teachers have been able to accomplish. It’ll be a great challenge; I think we can do it!”

“That’s the old cheerleader in you talking now, Sojourner. Your brain has slipped into neutral. I don’t see how…” The sound of tennis shoes pounding up the stairway ended our dialogue.

“Well, ready or not, here they come. Smile, Liz, and prepare to be a blessing!” I was speaking to myself, as much as to Liz. I launched those little two-word rocket prayers in abundance as the noisy group poured into our classroom. “Help, Jesus!” Truthfully, I was close to throwing up.

“Okay, kids, take a seat so we can get started.” Liz looked at me and we both hoped that the kids had not heard the tremor in my voice. “I’m Mrs. Sojourner and this is Miss Liz. However, if you would like to call us just Sojourner and Liz, that’s okay with us, too, right Liz?” Liz nodded and I noticed her plastic smile. “Okay, when I read off your name, please respond by standing up so we can identify who you are.” The noise dimmed only a little so I turned up the volume. “David.” No one stood. “Does anyone know David? Do you know if he is absent or just a bit shy?” Giggles and laughter spread around the classroom like a grass fire in August. “Okay, how about Jimmy; are you here today Jimmy?” I caught the glance of one child towards a tough-looking kid and turned my attention to him. Before I could say a single word, though, the tough-guy gave a nearly imperceptible nod and the entire class stood. “Well, o-ka-ay, so Jimmy is a very common name amongst the ten-year-old population here.” Everyone, including Liz and I, laughed, but my chuckles carried a silent Help us, Jesus!

“You know what, kids? Once the attendance is taken, we’re going to move our class outside for some singing with the guitar. Hopefully, there‘ll still be time to sing after attendance has been taken.” Brilliant, Liz, I thought as I listened to the kids scramble to take their seats and settle down.

One-by-one, the little hot dogs stood and told us their names. It was hard to get them checked off the list and still see which child matched which name; they popped up like corn on a hot bed of oil. We gave up, counted them, and found the right number in the classroom. Close enough; everyone’s there.

It proved impossible to get a quiet line of students filing out of the building, so Liz and I settled for getting our little hot dogs out as fast as we could instead. Fortunately, there was thick, green grass under the tree so everyone took a place in a semi-circle around us. Somehow, we figured the sound of strumming chords would quiet the crowd in eager anticipation of music to come. Ha, who were we kidding? This wasn’t the Sound of Music and these kids were not the Von Trapp Family. Half of the group did what one might expect in such a situation and began to scatter to check out the surroundings. The other half, mostly girls, chattered to each other, perhaps because the song wasn’t familiar to them?

“Okay, kids, everyone come sit down and let us teach you a new song. It’s easy and fun.” Wonderfully, they actually came to sit down. Strumming the chords, we told them the words to the chorus and they tried to sing along with us. They weren’t bad, really, and caught on quickly. However, we soon learned that it wasn’t the kids, alone, who could put a wrench in the works.

“What are you doing out here, children? Oh, Sojourner, you’re here with them? Why aren’t you in the classroom?” Sister Mary Margaret’s form loomed above us all, the black of her outfit adding to the gloom of her sullen expression.

“They’re just learning a new Scripture song. It was such a lovely day, we thought a bit of fresh air and sunshine…” but my explanation fell on deaf ears.

“They’ve had quite enough sunshine for one day, Mrs. Sojourner. Get these children back inside the classroom and work on their catechism sheets…right now!” Sister Mary Margaret’s hands were still tucked away in the sleeves of her robe but it felt like she was shaking her finger at me nonetheless.

“Okay, Sister Mary Margaret. We’ll take the children in. I didn’t realize this was not permitted.” Being a rather free-spirited twenty-one-year old, asking permission to take them outside hadn’t even occurred to me. But, now we knew so inside it is. Too bad, really. The days of winter weather would be here soon enough but, okay, inside was the rule so inside we went.

“Liz is passing out your worksheets so please sit down and begin to look it over. David, stop bouncing that basketball in the classroom. Jimmy, don’t take that worksheet away from Susan. Alice, why are you crying? Please, kids, sit down.” Once Alice had her pencil back and David put his ball under his desk, we began the lesson.

We read the story of some child who had shoplifted something from a store and how that wasn’t the right thing to do. By the end of the story, I wondered who in their right mind would think a ten-year-old child wouldn’t already know that stealing was wrong; what a waste of teaching time.

“How many of you think what the boy in the story did was wrong?” All hands shot up. “And, what do you think the right thing to do would have been?” Everyone got the answer right, of course. This material was so not what they needed to hear one more time. Perhaps, I should also mention that Jimmy and David punctuated the discussion of the story with the basketball, now bouncing off the walls, since I’d told them to stop bouncing it on the floor. Things were just not going well this first day.

“Look, kids, I think you are able to read the worksheet for yourself and do the games on the back page, if you want to do it. What I’d like to know is what you’d like to learn in this class. Anyone have a suggestion about what we could help you learn?”

“You’re the teachers; you’re supposed to know what to teach us. How do we know what we want to learn about anyway?” The class laughed and my face burned with embarrassment.

“Yes, but sometimes there are things we would like to know more about but the teacher never tells us. If no one has anything they want to know more about, Liz and I will ask God to show us what He thinks you might need to know that you don’t already know.”

“We don’t know much about praying.” The shy little girl spoke so softly that I nearly missed her suggestion.

“That’s a great idea, Michelle. We’ll share a bit about praying with you next week. There is a lot to know but the basics are easy.”

“That’s not hard. You just have to memorize a bunch of words for different times you need to pray,” said one skeptic in the middle of the room. A few grumbles of agreement followed but not as many as I’d expected.

“There are some prayers that we memorize but there are other kinds of prayer, too. It’s those we will talk about next week.”

Liz gathered up the extra worksheets on the desk and made her own suggestion. “Think about prayer and see if you can come up with any questions you want to have answered as we share about prayer next week.” Scattered snickers echoed softly around the classroom but some of the kids had already begun to offer questions.

“Great idea, Liz, and some super questions already. David, don’t bring your basketball next week or I’ll take it away from you for the class time. Jimmy, stop pulling on Susan’s hair or she might get the idea you like her more than the other girls or something.” Jimmy’s horrified stare came about the same time as he dropped the braids to the roar of the classmates. “Now, stop right where you are. Freeze, everybody! It’s time to pray for the close of the class. When I say ‘Amen,’ then you can move again.” Little bodies were frozen in place all over the room, with a double line to the classroom door. Heads bowed and hands clasped in front of them, as I began to pray for our little hot dogs to be watched over until our next meeting.

The “Amen” opened the floodgate and the small mass of humanity bolted out the door and down the stairs to freedom. Next week…would it be any different? Would we just live through another hour of chaos and sigh with relief when the time was over, at last? No! I determined that God would help us, and we would let Him. Perhaps, we’d tried too hard in our own efforts today and not leaned on the Lord the way we needed to for the class. The class would be different next week, because we would be different next week. No lesson was more important for the kids to learn than how to pray. God would help us.

*Name changed.

****Catechism: Praying Hot Dogs…Next Post

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