My turn, Larry Efird: Lessons from a bird and a prophet

Published 9:34 pm Saturday, March 21, 2020

By Larry Efird

As I sit in my empty classroom today, looking out my third-floor window at a gray sky, the only sound I hear is a lonely bird who is probably wondering where everyone has gone. I also hear a reassuring hum of the HVAC unit and the gentle ticking of a clock. An occasional train whistle in the distance reminds me that some things are still on schedule, though no school bells are ringing and no voices are heard in the halls.

As a teacher, there are times that I have prayed for days like this so I could regroup or recharge. Last year, a water main broke uptown, forcing school to close as we were arriving. A few of us realized we had actually prayed for a day off that very morning, so the surprise was more than welcome news to some weary teachers who just needed a break!

But somehow this is different. This was unexpected and caught us all off guard. We don’t know when and if we’ll be back together. My heart mainly goes out to my seniors who are wondering about their graduation plans and the prom and the athletes whose final season was suddenly cut short.

We’ve all been working on “review opportunity lessons” for our students so they’ll have something productive and constructive to do in the interim. We’re also working on different scenarios and how this whole situation might play out over the next couple months. But no one really has any answers because this has never happened before. The best we can do is try to stay focused on positive things and make the best out of a threatening and potentially devastating world crisis, a crisis that invaded our world, too, not just one on another continent where we felt sorry for other people and were glad that we lived “here” and not “there.”

Last week, on our final day together before school was canceled, I mentioned that I was in the high risk group because of my age. One of my students who comes to school “when he feels like it” told me that I needed to take care of myself and stay away from other people. He had no way of knowing that he was showing compassion and that he really did care, although his modus operandi is to make sure everyone thinks he doesn’t. That made me smile.

Something else that makes me smile is seeing many of the senior class who had their picture day in caps and gowns canceled last week showing up all over town to make their own unique photographs with their friends. Bravo to them for keeping their chins up and their heads high!

I also love watching the joy fellow staff members have passing out lunches to the children who still need food even though they can’t have school. Buses filled with bag lunches and hope pull out of the parking lot daily to show that their city has not forgotten them.

As an older teacher, whom some might disparagingly refer to as more of a “pencil and paper” kind of guy, I’m learning new ways of using technology to reach my students at home. I’ll never think that computers can do a better job than a human who teaches kids, but I will admit there are some limitations that seated classes have which technology can overcome. Maybe that’s a silver lining.

I also find myself once again turning to the scripture for guidance in the midst of uncertainty. I am reminded of a verse that had this to say about the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk:  “…before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.” Despite his dilemma, he chose to keep his faith to get through the plague his nation was facing. His confident words inspired me to put my own spin on something he said.

Though the hallways are empty

And there are no students in their desks;

The athletic fields are silent

And no cheering can be heard;

The sky is gray

And a break in spring is not what we thought it would be;

Yet I will rejoice.

I think we could learn a lesson from Habakkuk—and from a bird who sings even though he might be confused.

Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.