Every morning, Monday through Friday, since August 18, I’ve been making a left turn off of Grove Avenue on to Belmont Avenue. I pass the expensive, but delicious Zeus Gallery Café, clear the intersection at Hanover, and then pull into the parking lot at Benedictine High School, a private, military school supported by the Catholic church.
I park. As I walk across the lot, I observe young men in Army green. Besides the green, they also have something else in common—a barber who only knows one style, a military cut.
I walk up the stairs, through the main office, down a short corridor lined with cadet history. I make a left down a hall lined with graduating class pictures to Room 206. This is where I teach four straight classes of freshman English from 8:00 to 11:17.
Clearly, I have lost my mind.
Not since the mid-1980’s have I been responsible for preparing lesson plans, taking attendance, rereading pieces of literature that I thought I would never see again, playing psychological chess with teenage males, and grading papers.
Years ago when I first became an assistant principal at a local high school, people asked me if I missed being in the classroom. My first response was I don’t miss grading papers.
And now again, I’m up to my ears in grading papers. The faculty and staff at Benedictine ask me how I’m doing, and I tell them I’m going to have a t-shirt designed that will say, “Benedictine: It’s Wearing Me Out!”
Having spent all of my previous life in public education, I have noticed a few subtle differences at Benedictine.
Faculty meetings begin with a prayer. Morning announcements begin with the Lord’s Prayer. Cadets learn the school’s prayer, and students have the option of attending confession a couple of times during the week. Even though I’m not Catholic, I’ve attended three masses with the faculty, staff, and our students.
Despite all of this Catholic exposure, my mother-in-law can relax; I have no plans to convert.
Schools continue to be fertile ground for stories. And speaking of fertile, there is a young teacher on the faculty whose wife gave birth to their fifth daughter last week.
I heard about one teacher who with his wife was locked by accident into the Henrico County dump late one evening. They were scavenging through the too good to be thrown away section.
Learned about the retired Marine Corps Colonel who has a high ranking daughter in the Marines. But, the Colonel also lost a son in the crash of a Marine helicopter during a training mission.
But the real stories evolve around students.
The transition from middle school to high school is challenging just about everywhere, but when you factor in an Army Junior ROTC program, that can make the adjustment even more challenging. This is especially true for freshmen who have anxiety about orientation from upperclassmen not to mention the expectations from the Army veterans in charge of the program.
For one of my students this transition wasn’t any fun.
Teenagers will be teenagers no matter what the environment might be. One afternoon while this young man was in the process of getting ready for his physical education class, a classmate directed some inappropriate comments toward him.
The student who was devastated by the comments is slender, with a slight frame. And I’m guessing that any pursuit of organized athletics was probably a frustrating experience for him. Of course, the perpetrator was the exact opposite.
I found out about this crushing afternoon from a friend of mine in our neighborhood. My friend knows the young man’s family. I received an e-mail from my friend letting me know that the student had a rough day, and he simply asked that I keep an eye on him tomorrow.
Later that evening, I received a phone call from the headmaster of the school to discuss the situation. The headmaster had spoken with the student’s mother at length.
She told the headmaster that her son was so upset that he had stated to her, “Tomorrow, I don’t want to wakeup.” In all of my experiences working in schools, I can’t remember a comment hitting my heart so hard.
It was easy to tell the parent that the knucklehead who created this problem had been punished. Now, the real issue was whether or not the student who had taken the verbal harassment would have the courage to attend school tomorrow.
The headmaster had a plan. A letter to the editor in the Richmond Times-Dispatch written from the perspective of a young man with Down syndrome about name calling and stereotyping was going to be used. I would share this article with my four freshmen classes, and make clear that there would be no tolerance for this type of behavior from any cadet.
I also prayed for the young man that he could trust the school, want to wake up, and have the courage to return to school.
The next morning I was doing my daily devotional routine with the Upper Room and the Bible. For some reason, I stumbled into Romans Chapter 12, verse 16; “live in harmony with one another.” I wondered if those words might have any bearing for our freshmen.
Before I knew it, I was making my left turn on to Belmont Avenue. Not long after that my first period class started showing up. Luckily, the young man found the courage to attend.
After getting through some daily requirements, I passed out the article, and I called on various students to read aloud.
Once the reading was finished, we talked about respect, responsibility, tolerance, expectations, treating people with dignity, and then I wrote on the board, “live in harmony with one another.”
I asked the students where that quote might have come from? After taking some guesses, there was a fair amount of surprise when I told them the quote was from the Bible.
When first period was over and as students were filing out, the young man who “didn’t want to wake up” stopped and thanked me.
I wanted to tell him don’t thank me. Thank the good Lord for answering a prayer.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father as we go through each day of living help us to realize the importance of “living in harmony with one another.” In your name we pray, Amen.
*Author’s note, this piece was written in October 2008. It was shared as a devotional in the Outreach Sunday school class at Trinity United Methodist Church at some point that fall.