Larry Efird: A chance of showers — or storms
“May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb.”
Whenever I sit on my front porch while smelling a gentle spring rain shower and peacefully enjoying a hot cup of coffee, having pleasant thoughts such as these is easy. They sound as if they could have been penned by a British poet inspired by the majestic hills and lakes of Northern England.
But the man who gets the credit for these lines is actually the Old Testament prophet and leader Moses, as he was about to instruct his fellow Hebrews on their arduous journey to the Promised Land. Ironically, Moses wasn’t known for tact and gentleness on most occasions when dealing with an oftentimes cantankerous group of people, so I find these words coming from him to be even more significant.
What nice thoughts these words are, but I don’t think most teachers would characterize the majority of their teaching days by using this description. Based on my own experience I could easily alter these idyllic sentiments by saying that sometimes my teaching can “crash down like hailstones on crabgrass. ” I would like to think that my teaching is like a gentle, dropping rain in spring as I calmly and patiently instruct students who are themselves like passive fields of “tender grass and herbs.” The only problem is that most school settings are far from being places of peace and tranquility. That’s usually reserved for holidays and workdays.
Many people are accustomed to having a weather app or two on their smartphones these days, which warns them of any inclement or potentially dangerous weather situations. I wish I could have an app on my smartphone that would alert me to any “situations” my students might be dealing with before they enter my classroom. It’s amazing what can happen during the six minutes between classes or during the lunch break. Teachers can easily be caught off guard when someone enters the room fresh from a boyfriend or girlfriend crisis which can spell disaster for that student’s day, along with everyone else’s, especially if he or she wants to share their suffering and drama universally.
I can’t think of how many times my first period went off as planned, only to see the day begin to unravel as students’ stress levels increased hour by hour. That’s when I’d like to think that all that those “young and tender minds” need is the refreshment of some good old-fashioned intellectual stimulation—at least for a temporary distraction from their pain and suffering. And if that thinking sounds a bit delusional, then maybe they could use a caring word to help them regroup and refocus.
Teaching is hard work; learning is also hard work. Both teachers and students have to put forth a great deal of effort when they come together to approach their daily task of accomplishing learning goals and objectives. I have often told my students that if I’m not making them think, then I’m probably not teaching them very much. They don’t always like to think, so they can’t always appreciate my efforts on their behalf.
The average day in a school can be as unpredictable as the weather, despite solid lesson plans and wonderful collaboration with my colleagues. That’s why I can easily see the connection between students and storms. We’ve all been caught without our umbrellas before, and perhaps we’ve even needed to find refuge in a safe place once the ominous clouds appeared on the radar. But either way, there was the security of knowing that storms always pass.
I’m a teacher, not a weather forecaster, so I know my limitations when it comes to predicting the actual weather. (The pain I get in my little finger when a front is moving through the area isn’t always accurate.) Likewise, I can’t always know when something is about to erupt in a student’s life in the middle of class.
Fortunately, I do believe there are some special times when Moses’ words do accurately reflect what happens in a classroom. That’s why teachers keep going to work every day. The smart ones have just learned to keep an umbrella handy in case they need it.
Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School.