I’m from Tulsa. That means many things, but among them is an essential familiarity with Evangelical Protestantism in all its flaws and glory. I’m not a practicing evangelical, but neither do I find them so strange – they are my people, in warts as well as wisdom.
If you’ve never been to a proper revival meeting, you’ve missed a grand cultural experience. Some border on the bizarre, others can lean a bit quaint, but most are not so far removed from the weekly experiences of the faithy folks in attendance. It’s pretty rare in your typical revival service or tent meeting for the message to be something radically new.
You don’t generally introduce a host of new songs, or swap theologies with the church down the street, or even change the format of the service much without careful framing, smiling explanations, and a special insert in the bulletin. You certainly don’t introduce new doctrines or complicated thoughtways at such times. That would be completely missing the point.
Because the goal of most revivals isn’t to hear something new. The goal is to be reminded. Refreshed. Revived. Hence, you know, the name.
It is in that spirit I’d like to remind some of us of some things we already know. Stuff we’ve learned from both study and practice, in the classroom and out. Feel free to throw out an ‘amen’ or raise your hands, although if you’re more of the snake-handling variety, I’d appreciate a heads up first. Otherwise, please allow me to preach to the choir a bit…
(1) This year’s students are a different group than last year’s students. You are not (in most situations) picking up where you left off in terms of either knowledge or ability, and certainly not in terms of rapport or expectations. You have to start all over, because they’re new… even if you’re not. And that’s totally OK.
(2) The whole “this is a new group” thing also means some of what worked well last year may fall flat with this group. Maybe you’ve lost your touch, or maybe this group is just slow, or maybe it’s just one of those things that don’t make sense – it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the cause, some things will have to evolve.
Yes, it so very sucks when you finally get a lesson perfected over a few long years and then… it suddenly quits working for reasons you never quite understand. But it happens. You’ll find something else that works – you always do.
(3) On that note, it’s totally OK for you to do stuff that works in class, even if it’s not what works for everybody else. It may not be what’s trendy at the moment, or hi-tech, or flipped, or project-based. Some of you give killer lectures that suck kids in, while others work magic with a few markers and an unnatural enthusiasm for asymptotes. I know one lady who makes “foldables” a meaningful genre, which so never works for me.
Live it up, brothers and sisters. The fields are ripe for harvest - teach like the wind.
(4) Still, it won’t kill you to try some new things. I know that guy they brought in for that interminable PD day was boring, or irritating, or both, and that you’re cynical about these ‘fads’. You can (and do) tell innumerable stories of seeing them come and go.
I get it. People are scrambling to figure out what works – some with pure motives, others not so much. In that mess, though, are lots of things that work, and are good for kids. Find a balance between chasing trends and being that arms-crossed curmudgeon with your 48-year-old transparencies and mimeograph pages. You might learn something, and so might your kids.
(5) The smart kids need good teachers too. Before we quibble over my use of ‘smart’, feel free to substitute ‘successful’, ‘best and brightest’, ‘highest performing’, or whatever – you know the ones I mean. Let’s not forget amidst all the hand-wringing and standard-raising we’re doing trying to bring signs of life to the bottom 20% that there’s a top 20% as well, and that despite popular rhetoric THEY WON’T TEACH THEMSELVES.
We owe them challenge. Engagement. Time. Resources. Passion. Just because they’re not in discipline trouble or triggering Improvement Plans from the state doesn’t mean they’ll be excellent on their own. Let’s work our asses off trying to help them be amazing. To whom much has been given, much will be required.
(6) The bottom feeders need good teachers too. Before we quibble over my use of ‘bottom feeders’, I use the term affectionately for the most part – and you know who I mean. (If you really wish to be more politically correct, feel free to substitute ‘mouth breathers’.) The point is that we’ve got to keep trying everything we can come up with to reach and engage and inspire them, no matter how hard they work trying to convince us they are stupid, disinterested, or unreachable. Most of them are not.
Mind the gap between acknowledging factors beyond your control (don’t blame yourself for every miracle you can’t work) and justifying lethargy by blaming the kid and his or her world. It’s not their job to come from better backgrounds – it’s yours to overcome that background.
If you wanted a job that was possible, you should be selling shoes or doing accounting or something. This is education – reality is not an acceptable excuse.
(7) The ‘bubble kids’ need good teachers too. They make the least splash each day and they generally cause the least suffering – all the more danger they’ll pass unnoticed. Find them, notice them, grab them (not literally, unless you’re really really tenured), and find ways to help them be great. Or at least pretty good.
It’s hard more often than not, by the way. Tiring. Sometimes very discouraging. That's OK. You know going in the range of emotions involved. Be ready for them.
(8) It won’t kill you to send a little good mojo to your teacher peers. Where two or more or gathered, there will be complaining about students – consider at least sandwiching every conversation in positives about our lil’ darlings and about one another. It’s like a giant, ongoing parent contact. (“May I start by saying what a bright, creative child Adolph is…”)
(9) Our kids have potential, even when they hide it rather well.
(10) You have potential, even when it hides from you rather well. You must not quit – the need is too great and the harvest too close. You just don’t see it every day – but you do sometimes. Look again – there it is…
Sight is nice, but mostly we walk by faith – in ourselves, each other, and the possibilities. Unlike the religious kind, it’s rarely enough – but it’s what we have, so we make it enough. Organist…?