Monday, January 02, 2006

Those who can't do... Teach.

Those who think they know me may be surprized to learn that I'm a substitute teacher at the church I and my kids attend.
I admit I don't fall into the stereotypical mold when the phrase Sunday School Teacher comes up.
Such an image conjures up a strict piety, a near sinless life, an example for others and inside knowledge of this whole faith and belief thing. I have none of those qualities.
If the situation calls for it, I'll let a choice epithet slide from my lips. I have been known on certain hot, sweltery days to enjoy an ice cold adult beverage in social settings. My notions of faith, God and all things related to it don't tow the company line as far as my home church is concerned (or at least, I suspect my beliefs in large part don't) But I do enjoy learning and pondering things of a Godly nature, so I guess that's a start.
It's a job I took on reluctantly several months ago. Our adult class leader asked me if I would agree to be a sub for her. She's a dear woman, but getting up in years and would appreciate a break now and then. She evidently saw something in me that made her think I could handle the job-or at least be good at it. I have a strong genetic hambone in me and a voice that can project clear across a large room. At least one of those qualities would be a plus. But other than that, I really didn't feel up to tackling the task. It scared me. To me it's an awesome responsibility. It's not rocket's peoples faith and edification of spirituality we're talking here....that's way more complicated than rocket science! At least with rocket science one has certain absolutes you can teach upon. Things that are just fact, mathematical truths that have been proven time and time again. Not so teaching this sort of subject matter. Add to the mix that I myself am in a constant state of wondering, searching and questioning and you can see my dilemma. How could I, in good faith, teach when I myself don't really have a clue, either?

But nevertheless, I took on the mantle. I was supplied with all the duplicate teaching material and put on stand-by. To be ready when ever the need arose. This past Sunday, New Year's day, was such an occasion. Our regular teacher's husband had come down with pneumonia. I got hit with the call on Friday-that gave me barely 2 days to prepare. She assured me it was an 'easy lesson' this week. I had already had a few class sessions under my belt by this point-but almost always with a weeks notice to prepare. This one would be a bear, in my thinking, no matter how 'easy' it was. I was rushed for time.

Ironically, the subject that Sunday would be about having faith that God would see you through difficult tasks. It drew on a passage from First Timothy-Paul's letter to his young mentoree giving advice on how to handle that disentious congregation that Paul was handing Timothy the keys to. The church there at Ephesus was having major problems. All kinds of weird teaching was worming it's way through the ranks and things were falling apart. Paul felt that Timothy could whip these guys into shape and get a handle on things and get 'em back on track. It was about encouragement, seeking wisdom from the Almighty to get you through a tough job, etc. The lesson only focused on the few paragraphs at the start of the book. If one ventured deeper into that whole letter you'd find Paul's admonishment about women remaining silent in the church and how he felt that women had no place to teach. Uh oh. That opinion alone has been enough to convince me that not all of Paul's writings were "divine". Too much of his own biases and opinions worked their way into his missives. But yet millions of churches hang on to every word of his as if they had been uttered by God Himself.
By making that blanket statement, he had denied the value of any woman to lead or teach...period. Was he himself forgetting about lil' Debbie? The only person in all of Israel, at that time, who had enough hair on their backside to stand up and lead the nation when all the menfolk were peeing their drawers in fear of the enemy? And what about her silent partner in this great victory? Jael? Now that's a gal that really inspires me! Nailing a guys head to the ground with a big tent peg is not for the squeamish. And in my opinion, Jael is the real hero of that tale-although she barely rates a few lines, but what a story those few sentences tell! Out of all the women mentioned in the Bible-those are the 2 I would really love to be able to knock back a cold one with and just talk.

Ok, so you can tell by all that my style of teaching is, uh, perhaps non conventional. That's how I would like to talk in class. I'm more comfortable with colorful speech and coarse talk, injected with a little humorous phrasings than with more staid, eggheady dissertations. But, I have to keep a lid on it. Our adult class is what comics would call a tough room. My true style would freak them out beyond belief. Anyway, as usual, I have digressed here...
Back to the story:
Ok, so I've busted my butt, reading and studying, researching. For some reason I thought it important that I get a fix on how old Timothy was at the time of this letter. We all know he was younger than Paul and Paul had a fatherly affection for the boy, but just how old was he when Paul laid this task at his feet? Mid-20's? Early 30's? All the experts are silent on this. I could find nothing, noone who would even venture a guess at his age. This was important to me-I felt it was vital to the lesson that I point out how young he was when saddled with this responsibility. But I got bupkis. Ok, I'd have to wing it on that part.

By Saturday evening I had the whole thing outlined. I knew just how I was gonna do this class.
I was confident. I had my notes, my references, my chalkboard bits (we have a chalkboard in our classroom and when I teach, I use it alot...a great time stretcher!) I was all set to teach this class. Now I could relax and enjoy my New Year's eve.

Sunday morning I show up, lugging my materials, ready to get this over with. In keeping with the general theme of the lesson, I got broadsided by something I wasn't anticipating!
The attendance that Sunday, for whatever reason was sparse-enough so that the church mucky-mucks made a snap decision to COMBINE the adult classes! Now normally, our class is down in the basement-our class is a tight knit group, I know what I can get away with and all our visual aids and my beloved chalkboard are down there. There is also a capacious podium on which I can spread out all my books, quarterlies and Bible and have them all right there. The geezer adult class- and I say that with affection, mind you-is held in the sanctuary, proper. And it was there that they decided to hold class, since navigating the basement stairs would be a hardship for most of the senior adult class. Oh! Wonderful! I thought I was off the hook for teaching that day since the seniors class teacher would take the helm. That lasted about 10 seconds. Then one of the ushers began asking me if I would need a microphone as he dragged out the teeny tiny lectern that the senior class teacher uses. OH CRAP! I glanced about and saw that their teacher wasn't there today either! I was it. I would be the leader for BOTH classes!
I had less than 20 seconds notice to adapt my lesson plan. No chalkboard, no visual room to spread out my reference material-just me and a lectern that was barely big enough to support one puny hymnal. And a room full of hearing impaired folks. Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor? I was about to become the object lesson for that day.

AH HA! That's the angle I'll use!
After a couple of false starts, it was decided that I would need a microphone afterall-since it was apparent that some of these folks didn't get hearing aid batteries in their Christmas stockings. This added to my anxiety. Now I would be conscious of staying close to the mike stand, tethered in one spot, trying to remind myself to speak into the stupid thing. Normally I gesture with my hands as I speak and move about. This situation was agony for me. I just wanted to disappear. Every spelling bee I ever took part in in school came screaming back to me. It was that kind of pressure.

The classes only run about 45 minutes, but it was a very long, long, long 45 minutes. I hemmed, I hawed, I er'd and umm'd but somehow I stumbled through it all. And like any horrific experience- it was a blur. I can't even recall now just what I said! I know I went off on a few nervous tangents that barely were connected to the subject matter and about 4 minutes after it was all over all kinds of really brilliant stuff came to mind that I should have brought up during the lesson. Oddly enough, I was being congratulated for doing such a terrific job! They're just being polite, I was sure of it. How could anyone had gleaned anything from that disasterous train wreck was beyond me. Later that day, our regular teacher called me-apparently someone had filled her in about my fiasco and she praised me for tackling the job and apologized for the church putting me in a very awkward situation of having to teach 2 classes at once. It was an interesting call. Afterwards I realized the lesson for the day had come full circle. Just as Paul had dumped a thankless job on Timothy and built him up with confidence and encouragement and full assurance that he, Paul, knew the kid was up to the job; so had my teacher with me.
But in all honesty, after only walking about 15 feet in Timothy's shoes (or would that be sandals?) I was more than glad to toss them back to him.


Blogger Kathy said...

Ain't nothin' scarier than the Geezer class. My hat is off to you!

1/03/2006 9:15 AM  
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