Hurting kids and a prayer

The other day I separated my class of thirty sixth graders into small groups for reading and discussion.  As I walked down the hallway monitoring clots of students sprawled out on the floor, I became distressed.  Some of the groups were engaged, focused and delving into the task at hand; others were way off track.  Two groups in particular were having real problems.  When I took one student away from his group to ask what was going on and why he wasn’t participating, this is what he said:

“I have these voices in my head, whenever I start to work.  They say, “You can’t do it! You can’t do it!”  And, I know the other kids all make fun of me…”

A few minutes later I approached the other group spouting angry accusations.  I interrupted their argument to mediate and soon realized there were five students pitted against one.  I could sense the frustration from all sides and was quite sure no one was entirely innocent, but when I saw the one lone boy’s lower lip tremble my empathy, and agitation, soared.

At this point I wasn’t sure what I could or should do so I called all the students back into the classroom.  By the time I had them hushed and settled, my emotions were duly keyed up and I was ready to finally teach.

“I’m going to tell you something that might be depressing, but here it is anyway: you won’t remember anything I teach you this year.  What do you think I can remember from my grade six teacher?  That’s right, nothing. NOTHING AT ALL.

“Do you think I honestly care whether you learn anything about summarizing stories or your discussion questions?  The answer is No.  I DON’T CARE.  I really don’t care.  One.  Single.  Bit.”

Part of me twinged when I said that line, wondering if I should have actually voiced it in front of my class, because it wasn’t entirely true; but I was mad and on a roll…

“Here is what really matters to me, that you become kind and gentle people…”

I went on to relate why I was giving the whole speech in the first place; I knew students were going to leave the school that day feeling badly about themselves and others.  Then I did something that felt strange, after attending public school for my entire life.  I prayed with the class.

Now I’m teaching at a Catholic school–so it wasn’t illegal–but it was transforming.  Since I’m not Catholic I have a hard time keeping up with all the prayers, Hail Marys and figuring out when to cross myself.  Half the time I forget about the many daily prayers in the first place.  But not today.

I started off with a somewhat self-conscious “sign of the faith”, and then launched into a free-style plea for help, for myself and for my students.  I wasn’t sure, when I started, what exactly I wanted to pray for, but the words “kind” and “gentle” surfaced again.  When I finished, the class was quiet and the energy palpably changed in the room.  Here is another way to put it: the Spirit of God filled the class.

If that sounds too weird for you, it’s okay; it felt extraordinary to me, too.  And, I know that tomorrow kids will continue to fight, put each other down, and get hurt.  I am not pretending it will be perfect from now on, or that anything I did was super-powerful.  I’m only saying that when I, along with a room full of kids, asked for Help, I got it.

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11 thoughts on “Hurting kids and a prayer

  1. Tricia, Dad and I just read your entry first thing this morning. It could have been our devotional. Prayer is just that, supernatural and we don’t understand it. What a blessed experience for both you and your class. They learned more that day than anything else you could have taught them. Both of us are teared up. Thanks to you and to God.

  2. I am crying right now too. God is using you in an amazing way. Your love for God and your students just chokes me up. Being a good TEACHER is such a gift (I know because I am married to one of the best teachers there was!!!) I often marvelled at how much he loved those kids and how much he loved his job. I sometimes snuck up at his door and listened in and it led me to pray more for him. You might have saved one kids life today forever!

  3. wow. I like what you did. Kindness and gentleness (and curiosity and creativity) are on the top of my wishlist for my kids right now. (reading and writing, which they currently struggle with, is ultimately so much easier).

  4. Tricia that class is sooo lucky to have you! What an impact you are making on everyone! You are to be admired and your shoes are getting really big and going to be hard to fill.

    • Thanks for your encouragement… from my perspective I mostly see what I am not getting to, the stuff I am missing, and areas I could do better with. Yikes! Hopefully they’re not too far gone by the time you come back.

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