Along Came a Teacher
In the world we pay athletes and CEO's the big bucks. But it's the educator who contributes most to society. And, similarly, in the church there are some preachers who get all the praise and recognition. But it's the discipler of no more than a handful who builds saints.
This truth was reconfirmed for me today. From a box of family memorabilia has come a bundle of report cards that chart my passage through public school from kindergarten to 6th grade. I read them this morning for the first time in 60 years.
The cards dredge up a lot of past unhappiness for me. In kindergarten (PS 33 in Queens, New York) children received grades for such things as sitting correctly, using a handkerchief, ability to dress alone, working and playing well with others, and ability to express oneself. I got all S's meaning satisfactory. I should have stayed in kindergarten.
4th and 5th grade (Fairfax School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio), were another story. My grades in arithmetic and spelling were U's for unsatisfactory. I received acceptable grades in geography and English. In the section called "note to parents," were these words: "Gordon would do much better if he applied himself…he is careless in doing his work and loiters away his time." In another report card, "Gordon still takes too long in getting started in his assignments. He is quick to find excuses for not getting his work done." Months later: "Gordon needs firm handling…his greatest failings are his inability to follow directions and lack of concentration." Boil all the comments down, and it comes to this: Gordon doesn't fit into the system.
As I said, I felt a fresh hurt from deep inside myself as I read these report cards. They aroused memories of a generally unhappy childhood where members of my family struggled to be civil to one another. More than a few times I remember leaving a contentious home and walking or biking to school alone, crying all the way. It was a poor way to start most school days.
Each report card has the signature of either my father or my mother showing that they once read them. I remember a student or two who tried to forge their parents' names. I wasn't as daring. I always feared my parents' reactions. "You should be ashamed of these marks. You are better than this." Or they would say, "I don't understand it; you have such potential." Ever heard this one? "You're not keeping your mind on your work; you've got to apply yourself."
Each morning during the two-week turnaround time I would count down the days remaining until I absolutely had to get one of their signatures. On the final day, just as I was headed out the door for school, I would shove it front of the nearest parent and say, "Could you sign this?"
The bad report cards would result in losing radio privileges (no TVs yet), after-school play time, and promises that my homework would be carefully, parentally monitored—which rarely happened because my parents were too involved with church work. Their stick and carrot philosophy rarely worked.