Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Righteous By Faith Live -- And Learn

Normally, I do not have warm memories of my time at Hawthorne High School.

The students were --- well, let's just say that not every student lived up to his potential or loved spending his time in my class. I cannot say that I was the best educator that every graced the hallways of the Beach Boys before they hit their prime. Still, I would have to say that "California Girls" is the best thing that ever came out of Hawthorne High School.

But I can also share that one of the best teaching moments in my seven year career as an educator also came from my experience there.

I never thought that students would remember me after I had finished a long-term assignment at the campus earlier last year. When one student greeted me with a warm shout: "Schaper!" I was glad that I had left a favorable impression on someone. One stalwart, who used to curse a blue streak, welcomed me with a loud "No Profanity!" -- the one tirade that I used to lash out. At least he learned to clean up his language.

I also remember standing up to the mean secretary. Most staff members told me just to drop off my keys and leave. Say nothing and do nothing more. Of course, I have always loved a challenge. She learned to get used to me as I learned to live and let live with her.

Then there was that one reading class  that I covered at the end of one week. Three students, two boys and one girl, were seated toward the back. The teacher's aide left after half an hour, as every teacher's aid is expected to leave earlier. The teacher I was covering for had paperwork to fill out, as he was assigned special students that year, and the documentation required for those students can be daunting.

Two boys, one girl, special ed students, a reading class, Friday, last period of the day -- and they are supposed to start reading. I knew that not much work was going to get done today.

When  a lull of awkward silence settles in, I get out my notebook, filled with fun drawings and verses which I have collected over the years. The past year or two, I was drawing up a storm. I had two profiles of King George VI, the stuttering monarch who rallied his people  against the Nazis in a rousing speech, based on the award-winning film "The King's Speech". I also included a pencil portrait of Benoit Mandelbrot, a brilliant mathematician whose work in fractal geometry influenced a wide number of disciplines, including telecommuniciations, medicine, and art. This intellect, who worked his way up to top-tier leadership of IBM, was a Holocaust survivor who could not memorize his times tables. I also copied in large letters some Hebrew phrases which have motivated me time and again.

The two boys were impressed with my drawings, but the Hebrew phrase really caught their attention and fired up their interest. The curves and wavy end-points, the foreign allure of a language sculpted from a different alphabet commanded their focus. "What does that mean?" one of them asked me.

"The righteous by faith live." I then pronounced for them the original Hebrew. I have never seen students get so excited about anything. Next, I shared with them the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Fascinated, they began copying the letters that would spell their own names.

For the next thirty minutes, those two boys were engrossed in the spiritual immersion of Hebrew letters, a verse of scripture of great import to me and many others. The young lady who had sat by reading her own book became very interested. I invited her to join us, and she sat next to one of the boys and began writing out her own name.

I admired how the students were able to craft letters from an ancient language into today, making them relevant and personal. I was so happy that they were completely interested in something that I had shared with them.

Time passed very quickly that afternoon. One of the boys looked up at the clock high above. Sighing, he sadly remarked, "I don't want to go home. I want to finish this!"

Two boys -- one a freshman, the other a sophomore; one girl, a quite junior; all three of them, special ed students - who have a hard time concentrating; a reading class, which ends up usually turning into a useless study hall period; and a Friday, the last period of the day, the last ten minutes of the day -- and these kids did not want to go home.

For seven years, I have taught in schools all over -- rich, poor, urban, suburban, white and minority -- and never have I worked with students who, about to go home for the weekend, have told me that they wanted to stay and work on something that I had shared with them. It was a stirring moment for me, the teachable moment that most teachers and educational instructors love to talk about but seem  to encounter less and less in their careers.

I joked with them that I would love to stay, too, but the principal kicks every substitute off campus at the end of the day. Because I did not want them to have to quit what they were working on, I gave each of them a copy of the Hebrew and Greek alphabet. "Hey, the Greek's easier!" One of the students remarked.

Still, the righteous by faith live -- and learn!

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