It was time for desperate measures. My crew had become all too obnoxious at lunchtime. If they weren’t just giggly and rowdy, they were just plain gross. I tried to direct the conversation. I told them all to pay close attention to pastor’s sermon in chapel. Then at lunch we had a lively conversation based on it. It was quite fun until I had to leave the table. As soon as I did, one of the angelic host slipped his halo and let fly with some quite inappropriate language.
The next day I tried another tactic. I packed up a tablecloth, candles, and candleholders. I knew I could find some flowers for a centerpiece at school, but as it happened one of the members of the congregation happened to drop off bouquets for the teachers that morning. I told my students to be on their best behavior, and to be as attentive with the sermon again. Something special was coming for lunch.
After recess I told the whole lot to leave their wildness outdoors. As soon as they washed hands, two immediately began to horseplay. I sent them back to the classroom, and asked the K-4/5 teacher to send me over two children in their place. She said she would choose two who had been particularly hard-working and well-mannered.
As soon as the matter of the first two miscreants was settled, three more were cutting up. That made room for three more of the younger students. A sixth of mine was still doing homework from the night before, so that made room for one more. Six out of seven of my own students were not going to have the treat I had prepared for them: a table set with cloth, lit candles, and flowers.
When my students were let loose from the classroom to re-enter the lunchroom the table had already been set, and the candles were ablaze. Their eyes grew wide with wonder. The older boys were too cool to drool, but not one. His jaw dropped to the floor and stayed there as he moved on through the lunchroom. The talk drifting from the bathroom as they washed up told a different tale. “Aw, man! We shoulda known she was up to somethin’ like that.” “Yeah, well, too late to do anything about it now.”The younger children thought they were at a party. Their manners rose to the occasion. A finer group of gentle folk could not be found to dine with. Not one drop of catsup or milk was spilled that day. Every meal was finished.
It wasn’t until later—after school let—out that I discovered that none of my seven students should have been privileged to enjoy the treat. One saw what was up with the table, and also knew when I was coming down the hallway, so managed to straighten up her shenanigans before I could catch her. The others let this fact slip out, she verified that it was true.
The next morning I asked her to come with me to the younger classroom. I had a short errand there. After completing it, I told her she had something to say to that class. She immediately knew what I meant. “I’m sorry. It should have been one of you at that table and not me. I was laughing and playing in line, and Deaconess asked us not to.” The class told her, “I forgive you,” and we left.
That would have been enough, but she took it one step further. For whatever reason it may be, the younger students consider it a matter of honor to sit at the Deaconess’ table, while my own students take it as a given, and thus for granted. At lunch the young lady asked the K-4/5 teacher to “swap out” one of her students for her so that they could sit at the Deaconess’ table, and she would sit at the K-4/5 table in their place. There would be no cloth, candles or flowers, but the thrill of sitting with the Deaconess and the big kids was still there. Meanwhile, she would sit with the little kids.
It was a step of maturity. We work hard with these students to learn to confess their sins, to say, “I did it… I’m the one…” Their habit is to blame someone or something for their situation. “Everyone else is doing it…” happens to be their favorite, followed by, “Well, I didn’t want to tell the truth because I didn’t want to get into trouble.” Let’s see… polls are the foundation for ethics, and a lie is the best means to spin the truth. Yup. Sounds like the basis for modern ethics to me.
So it takes time, sometimes a lot of it, before the efforts are brought to fruition. Sometimes they are never seen. Sometimes we only hope that the seeds of catechesis planted in the little ones will bear fruit one day. One thing is certain: God promises his word will not return empty, but will succeed in the purpose for which he sends it (Is 55:11).