Teach a Girl to Teach

An old Asian proverb hides right up the teacher’s sleeve.

授人以魚不如授人以漁授人以鱼不如授人以渔

Give a man a fish; you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; you feed him for a lifetime.

That’s why today when a ninth-grader asked me a simple question from her homework, one that I knew was hidden in the lesson we completed two days ago, I grinned and said nothing.

“Why bark if you have a dog?” That’s how my mom said it. And I knew it would then be worthless to ask her to do something I could easily do myself.

A teacher is not an answer key. He is a question box. And while I will gladly do the work required for me to teach effectively, I will not do for my student what he or she was sent to school to do.

Students learn by digging; and by digging they learn to learn. This kind of learning will last a lifetime.

Sometimes it’s even one better to get them to teach.

After school on Fridays this winter, we’ve been having a kid’s club. Children from the village come to sing, have a Bible lesson, eat a snack, listen to a story, and go home again.

My students teach. And it’s been a delight for me to sit back and watch. The first evening I walked away and grinned from ear to ear all weekend. Give a girl a classroom, and she blossoms.

Give them a fish, and you feed them for today.

Teach them to teach, and they may be poor all their lives.

But they will be happy.

Small Things

Teachers cover for teachers. Husbands cover for wives. I could never do enough to repay my co teacher for also being my wife, but I do cover classes for her sometimes.

Like on Tuesday when the ladies from church were meeting to spend the day sewing. Claudia joined them for lunch; and since my girl students went along and left me with one boy only to teach, I stepped across the hall and taught Claudia’s littles.

She has one first grader and two second graders, all as sharp as can be. It was fun spending the day teaching about squirrels whose front teeth wiggle and bats who feed their babies milk.

Where have we lost the wonderment that lies in the simple things? Somewhere among the quarks and hemoglobins, I guess.

Spring is nearly sprung. Pick a wildflower; and instead of classifying it as a monocotyledon of dicotyledon, just smell it.

Humpty Dumpty

There are beautiful moments when the students rally around their teacher. I had one such moment last week. But for me personally, it was less than fun.

There is a fence around the soccer field at school. It is about eight feet high and five rams live on the other side of it.

Now when Claudia was young and her family played baseball in the yard behind her house, her dad made the rule that “over the fence is out”. He even wrote a poem about it.

We need the same rule in kickball. But I’ve always felt that it’s special to kick the ball far and high enough to send it over the fence. In fact the students seem to like it too, if they are on the team who sent it there. When a seventh grader sends the ball over the fence, the small ones on his team go running around the bases behind him: practicing home runs, I guess.

The opposing team likes it less.

Last week I was an outfielder when the ball sailed out and over the fence. I raced after it, grabbed the mesh wire and pulled myself to the top. I did not hesitate there, but prepared to land on my feet and scoop up the ball.

I could hear the cheers of the smaller ones taking off around the bases. I could hear the groan of a teammate, “It’s no fair! He just kicks it over the fence and gets a free home run.” I thought about my father-in-law’s rule. I thought about how that student needs to not be such a complainer.

I leapt. But the fence has wires about two inches long poking out the top of it. My shoe snagged and I slanted toward the sheep pasture. For a split second my shoe held before it slipped off my foot, but it was enough. My arms were not out to catch me, and I fell chest first on the packed earth.

It was not my life that flashed before my eyes. One moment, I was thinking of how to help a student overcome grumpiness. The next, I was eye level with small pieces of sheep excrement, and I was wondering at the shape of it, and surprised at the quantity, and afraid I may be rolling over piles of it.

I couldn’t breathe or talk. I could only roll back and forth like a windshield wiper.

The students came running and I sat up rocking and tried to tell them everything was okay. It’s tough to talk when you’ve recently rammed yourself down in a ram pen. “I’m..” I breathed, “I’m..” another breath, “..okay.”

“There, I can breathe again.”

I stood up as proof that all was well, and threw the ball back into the playground.

The students suggested calling the ambulance or taking me to the hospital to make sure I was all right. I shook my head and brushed off my pants.

Later, at lunch, I heard debates about who laughed and who didn’t when they saw me topple. I heard them discussing whether or not a fall like that could kill someone. Then they were telling me how glad they were I was okay. It felt good, and I felt cared for.

“You’d miss me if I died, wouldn’t you?” I asked.

A fourth grader pursed his lips and replied, “Well, Claudia would cry really much and it would be so sad.”

I shook my head and walked back to the office.

That night my dear wife soaked my pants in vinegar water to get the stains out and make all things good as new again.

When we all work together

The list would be long indeed if I were to enumerate all the things my students have done for me in the last five years. This year I have one who is building my house.

Claudia and I bought some land in this village and plan to build a house and live here. The property is a little hillside orchard: walnuts, cherries, plums, apples, and enough open field for a chalet and a courtyard of roses.

But the process of housebuilding in Romania is not one I am familiar with. Permits are fewer and rather dependent on cups of coffee and the prevailing mental state of the mayor. A greater portion of the labor is manual. Such as digging a foundation.

Last week I staked off the four corners of our proposed house. I explained to the math class the next day how I used the Pythagorean formula to make it square.

A twelfth grade girl wondered when I’ll start digging the foundation.

“I’m checking rates and thinking of using a machine. We need to dig in a water line anyway so I might as well hire out the whole thing,” I replied.

“How much will it cost?” she countered.

“Maybe six of seven hundred lei.”

“Too much. You could save the money and get the brothers from church to help you dig the foundation by hand. My dad and brother dug two of them before.”

I was pleased to see that my lectures about saving money had not been wasted.

Why not. The weather forecast was excellent. By the end of the day I had called around to the church fellows and we agreed to dig. Friday I went to town and bought a shovel and ten kilos of chicken.

Saturday morning I turned the first dirt at 8:15 and by 1:00 we had the entire foundation dug along, with 30 meters of water line.

We ate barbequed chicken for lunch and finished off the day with volleyball and an evening campfire. I was pleased as can be.

It had been a perfect day. I love interacting with community and students outside of school hours. Food, fun, and foundation digging makes a full and fulfilling Saturday.

That evening my twelfth grader stopped me.

“What’s the next step?” she asked.

Eating Bug

Many people were caught off guard by President Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

Dr. Sam Wang, for example.

As a pollster, he promised to eat a bug if Donald Trump received above 240 electoral votes. President Trump netted 306. Dr. Wang netted a cricket. With honey.

He said it tasted “mostly honey-ish, a little nutty”.

Dr. Wang also said he felt a little like John the Baptist in the wilderness. He suspected many people were surprised with the election results, but that most were not out in the cold with a wager as he was.

Psalm 15 says that a person who is worthy to dwell in God’s house will keep his commitment even if it ends up hurting him.

Read Psalm 15.

Let’s be careful what we commit to, especially if the “bet” is speculative. Because those who God considers worthy are those who keep the commitments they make. And let’s also be careful to always keep our commitments fully. Even if it means eating crickets.

Bonk that Homework

I’d never heard of fish bonkers before I was a teacher. But one year when my décor was everything fishing, I explored the sports section of the local Walmart and discovered a handy wooden club with a whimsical set of instructions.

The club was threatening. So I repurposed the instruction booklet for my own means and displayed it on the class wall.

Never Give Up

A school teacher lives in a glass house. From the grandpas asking “What did you learn in school today?” to the songs the sixth graders sing in the shower, all things done at school find their way into every cranny of a community.

I was first introduced to Bambelela about five years ago. The song changed my life, and on one occasion, I believe, actually saved it.

I learned the song under this talented director.

I’ve taught it now to the third school. And I find that with the song, Bambelela becomes kind of a code word in the classroom.

“I don’t see how I will ever learn this Spanish.”

“Bambelela.”

“You mean we have to pound in one hundred nails for this string art?”

“Bambelela.”

I hope the point is being made clear. Never give up. Never, never, never give up. Bambelela.

Sometimes “Bambelela” even reaches beyond the school.

A month ago the school got to share the song at one of our Sunday evening church services.

And I was very blessed when a few weeks later a friend shared a video of his almost-three-year-old.

Never Give Up!