I was an underachieving little hellion.
I know that in the Baptist church they drew lots to see who would have me in their Sunday school class each year. I was the kid that teachers prayed to be absent. A Sunday school teacher could have a lesson planned about the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness and before it was over the Hebrews had fallen victim to a John Wayne shoot out at High noon with the Philistines and the teacher would be in prayer in the corner of the room about their eternal salvation. I caused more than one Baptist Sunday school teacher to quit and join the Methodist church!
Elementary school was no different. Recess was the only thing I liked about school. It was the only thing that made sense. At recess there was a ball and you kicked the ball and then you ran. The only reason to go inside was that Cindy Stinson was inside on the second row. All the boys loved Cindy. On Valentine’s Day, she received real Valentines cards and candy. All the boys wanted to attract Cindy’s attention. What better way of attracting attention than a little classroom destruction? Standing in the corner in the front of the room meant you were closer to Cindy. I am an expert at standing in the corner and slapping chalk board erasers together. In my early experience, staying after school happened almost daily.
I was that kid. In the third grade, my dog Missy and another dog hooked up in the backyard for canine love. A couple of months later I put two and two together and explained to my third grade class during show and tell where puppies came from. I was banned from further expressions of show and tell.
I would talk in class. I would not follow directions. I rarely colored within the lines. These notable traits have followed me into adulthood.
I was frustrating to my mom and to my teachers. My report cards indicated a child who was not inspired by the academic process. It pointed to a child who was not putting forth much effort except in the area of disruption.
My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Sarah Napps. I must have caught her in the twilight of her career because in the 1930’s she taught my uncle and my mother. She was also my mother’s piano teacher. For some reason I took a shine to Mrs. Napps. Maybe it was the mythical stories of her teaching prowess I heard from my mother, maybe it was her grandmother demeanor. But in the fourth grade I discovered the rudiments of self-control.
One afternoon Mrs. Napps and my mom were meeting for a parent-teacher conference. I was invited in to the room. Mrs. Napps said to me, “You are a smart young man. I think you can do much better in school. I expect you to do much better. You have made some progress and I am proud of you. Still I want you to work harder and I know your grades will improve.” All I took from that meeting was that Mrs. Napps believed in me.
Sarah Napps changed my life. Not that I became a scholarly saint immediately, but her words righted the ship and pointed me in the right direction.
The academic adventure called school has begun for most of students. I am praying for our teachers especially the ones who must deal with “that child.” I am praying that they would have patience and wisdom and that they would place on their students high expectations for behavior and learning. I believe that children live up to or down to the expectations that significant persons in their lives place on them.
My life was changed by a teacher. The stories I like best about Jesus are the ones that begin with, “Teacher…”