The telephone rang at 5 a.m.
Five o’clock in the morning!
There are birds and squirrels still asleep at that hour, let alone human b-e-a-n-s.
I had the same fear and trepidation as many of you: “Who died?”
(A friend of mine has a slightly different twist: “Who died and left me money?”)
It was an elementary school principal — and her voice rang with desperation. The hour alone had already proven that.
“I need a sub for second grade!” she pleaded.
I knew the specific class of which she spoke; it had a district-wide reputation as “The Class from Never-Never Land” because teachers never returned a second time.
“Hmmm! Grade 2. Isn’t that the age group that bites you in the ankle while you’re trying to teach?” I teased. “That’s not exactly my area of expertise.”
A pregnant pause!
“Come on, big guy, you’ll love them and they’ll love you!” she chanted in sing-song fashion.
I love the way elementary school staff sing their words!
I can be seduced with flattery — the term “big guy” got my ego — and I agreed to sub “but only for the day.”
Upon entering the classroom, I did what most teachers do: wrote my name on the board.
As I turned around, student faces said it all. Half were sad and on the verge of tears while the other half were either fearful or markedly displeased.
“Girls and boys, Mr. G has been here for all of one minute. What’s wrong?”
“We don’t do curthive!” a little girl from the back of the room bellowed.
“We don’t do curthive; we can only pwint!”
A tiny lad in the front row, the class self-appointed interpreter, rose to the occasion like a prophet.
“Sir, she has two teeth missing in front — but they’ll grow back!”
He paused briefly to give her a reassuring smile.
“What she is trying to tell you is that second-graders can only “print” in the beginning of the year but later in the year will know how to write “cursive.”
Another lad with a little-professor air about him added: “As a teacher, you should have known that!”
I managed a straight face.
“And sooooooooo,” continued the class interpreter, “could you pleeeaaaase erase your cursive name and print it?”
Rarely have I moved faster in following student directions.
This time, as I turned around to face the class, I was greeted by a general round of applause and affirmation.
The day went very well and I wound up returning for the next few weeks until a more-seasoned, permanent sub could be found.
My initial, unintended error had “enabled” these students; they had been given the rare opportunity of directing the teacher before the teacher had exercised the frequent opportunity of directing “them” —and they loved it!
On my way out the door that afternoon, I shared my “pwint-curthive” experience with the principal. She laughed: “Only in second grade! Only in second grade can folks go from sad and teary-eyed to ecstasy and joy, and, what’s most fascinating, all in 30 seconds!”
I think about that principal’s comment every time a new school year begins and I agree with her.
At the same time, I contend that there is a second-grader in “all” of us.
You may remember “Transactional Analysis” of yesteryears, the contention that all of us have five ego states: nurturing parent, critical parent, adult, adaptive child, and — the one that keeps us young — free child.
In other words, the free child in all of us is capable of moving from sadness to joy, though not necessarily in 30 seconds.
What works for me is posting, on my mirrors and frig door, words that serve as a shot of adrenalin when sad or depressed.
My bedroom mirror reads: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds … .” Philippians 4.
My bathroom mirror reads: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12).
And the frig door, where the maple walnut ice cream is stored: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11).
Yes, whether we “pwint” or do “curthive,” the free child in all of us is capable of moving from sadness to joy — though not necessarily in 30 seconds.
Enjoy your school year!
The Rev. Dr. Bob Gallagher lives in Salisbury.