The Penny

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.

[Sunday, January 30, 2011]

Change Is Good?

I've been teaching the 8- to 10-year-old Primary (junior Sunday school) class for the past few years. I had a challenging group last year and the year before, mainly because of two children with disruptive, disrespectful behavior. One was in my class two years ago, while he was 10 turning 11. He was supposed to be in the next class up, but he and another boy his age were too much together, so they put him in my class. The other boy was in my class while he was 8 turning 9 (a younger) and again last year while he was 9 turning 10 (an older). Last year, I had a particularly large class of nine children, including the one disrespectful child, one with moderately severe autism, and one with severe learning disabilities as well as behavior issues. The one with learning disabilities ended up being pulled out in March so that a teacher could work one on one with him, which improved his attitude, if not his gospel knowledge. The child with autism had spotty attendance. So my main challenge was the disrespectful child, who hated me (along with his parents and basically every adult on the planet). We got through it. Now he hates Sister Frye, and may heaven help her.

When I learned that I would continue teaching the 8- to 10-year-olds this year, I was excited, because a. the curriculum was the New Testament; b. I would have the youngers from last year's class, including one boy that I cherish; and c. the new youngers seemed like great kids. The child with autism and mister surly were both olders last year, so now they are youngers in the next class up, the 10- to 12-year-old class. As far as I knew, the child with learning disabilities would continue to have his one-on-one teacher.

The first Sunday of this year, I was surprised to fine him seated at the table (I have a long table in my room, so that the kids have somewhere to put their scriptures, which we make frequent use of) along with his age mates. Surprise! I ran and grabbed the Primary president to make sure he was in the right place, and she said, "Oh, I put him back in your class, so he'll be with you this year, thank you." Communication? Never mind.

That was challenging, and I had to stop the lesson many times to ask him to stop humming or moaning or poking his neighbor or what have you. But we made it through. One girl, a younger, apparently had different expectations on her last year, because she spent a lot of time chatting with neighbors. We had a little talk after class, and she was quite chastened. I chose her as a special helper the following week to make sure she knew I wasn't holding it against her, and she has been good as gold ever since. They all have.

I have the best class, seriously. I have eight kids: four boys and four girls. I love them all, even the ones I have only been teaching for a month. The curriculum is fantastic, and I've been chomping at the bit to get to the stories and parables. (So far we've talked about who Jesus is, and we had one lesson on John the Baptist.)

Today, before church started, the second counselor in the bishopric asked to talk to me. No! I gave a talk and said a prayer in sacrament fairly recently... maybe he wanted to talk about single adult activities (which are nonexistent, but they want me to go to the planning meetings for said nonexistent activities)? No, it was about callings. You guessed it: I'm not going to teach that class regularly anymore. Instead, I'm going to be a senior Primary (ages 7-12) permanent sub.


Of course, I agreed, but I felt like crying. I still feel like crying. I love my class so much, and I will miss them. We've bonded. They gelled faster than any class I've taught. As a contrast, last year's class took a good two months to gel.

I also got a new calling: ward organist. They already have a ward organist, but we're going to share the duties. I guess we'll alternate weeks or something; I need to talk with her about it. So now I'm interpreting, playing the organ, and sometimes teaching Primary. I like all of those things, and I'm willing to do them. Everyone seems to dismiss interpreting like it's no big deal, but it's by far the most demanding of the three. For me, anyway.

I'm really going to miss my class. It's so wrong, but I feel like no one else will teach them like I could. I'm worried that one will go down the dark path his older brother has (that 10/11-year-old I had two years ago? his older brother, who is 12 and has fallen in the abyss known as Young Men). I've built a strong relationship with the younger brother, though, and I can get him to do things like put down the hood of his hooded sweatshirt, read scriptures, and even sing. He's too cool for school--you know the type. Today he unslouched during sharing time, which is a first. I finally hit on a strategy that is working for him and another boy, that helps them behave appropriately during sharing time and even participate. I was really hoping to get this boy to meet with the bishop and talk about something that's been bothering him since last summer, and I'm a bit distressed that we haven't gotten to that point.

I will miss another boy so much, because he is just full of light. He's going to be a general authority, count on it. I've been in Primary for 10 or 15 years, in four different wards, and this is the most pure child I have ever encountered. He just wants to be good. He has grown into such an excellent student. In the past year, he has gone from a vacant-eyed, sit-and-nod-your-head automaton (I actually thought he had a low IQ when I first interacted with him) to an energetic, first-one-to-raise-a-hand risk-taker, who is developing faith and critical thinking skills. He has really blossomed, and I consider myself privileged to experience the transformation in him.

I will also miss a girl I have only been teaching for a month. Yup, one of the youngers. She is bright and loves to learn about the gospel. She wasn't in my class last year, but I guess she has learned a lot at home. That is not at all a given--none of the others seem to know anything that I haven't told them. Poor memory for things their parents say, I guess. But not this girl: she's on the ball. We were talking today about some of the things that Mary and Joseph were told about Jesus before he was born. One was that Jesus would reign over Jacob. So I asked, "Who is Jacob?" We reviewed the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the olders studied the Old Testament last year, but this was new information for the youngers), and I crossed out Jacob's name, explaining that it was changed to something else. To what? This little girl about fell out of her seat, waving her hand. And she knew the answer! Israel. She reminds me of myself: often knowing the answer and eager to say it, but keeping quiet if not totally sure of herself. Especially with the "what do you think about..." and "why do you suppose..." questions. But she is starting to take risks and describe her line of thought or give a good guess, not just try to predict what I want her to say. She is developing rapidly. Who wouldn't want to teach a child like that?

There are five more that I enjoy and will miss. I realize that not teaching every week is a blessing, that it means I can go to Sunday School (which I LOVE)... And I can visit the ward that has a deaf teenager and people who sign, which Laynie desperately needs.... But I grieve to leave the children I love. This class was my reward for making it through the last two years without wringing anyone's neck!

But I am looking forward to playing the organ, and I'm happy that Laynie will get what she needs sometimes. And I am very much looking forward to the times that my kids' new teachers are absent and I get to sub for their class.


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