Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Happiness Fairy Makes 3 Wishes

"Thy firmness makes my circle just,/ And makes me end where I begun.”– John Donne

AACS is like a small town. It’s a little world cunningly connected. Everyone knows everyone’s business, half the people are related—as in parents, siblings, cousins and the rest are either in-laws or somehow connected by marriage or Marching Band. My son-in-law, who is from Pennsylvania, is continually amazed by how many people around town know Valerie. While out to dinner, Val tried to explain her connection to the waiter that made them close enough to hug in greeting. “Oh we’re connected sort of by marriage. Well, he’s my brother Joe’s wife’s sister’s husband’s little brother and I used to be in this thing called the Variety Show with him when he was a kid.” Andrew shook his head, “What?” Yeah, it’s hard to grasp. And like a small town,
AACS is made up of people – therefore beautiful and also harrowing things can and do happen. In my last note, I mentioned that AACS had given me some of my most beautiful experiences and some of my most harrowing. Because of that fact, I have more to say.

Though a true believer, I came to AACS in a disillusioned state about the church and my own place in it. Very early in the first year, my friend Ellen Smith prayed for me once during morning devotions saying, “Let her be humbled by Your presence in her classroom.” I came see that “humbled” meant overjoyed by His faithful help! This became my banner, my experience, my joy. I began to know God’s help in planning, in seeing what students needed, in learning how to win the wounded. I remember the restorative joy that came to me when I saw that a student had learned, felt encouraged or enlightened. Little by little, year by year as I served in an organization only related to church, my concept of the church was healed. Much of this was due to the blessing of sharing a classroom for several years with Gary
Derechinsky, experiencing Steve Larson’s chapels and seeing Dick Bitzer look after students. But much of it was due to working together with dedicated Christians where God gave me trusted friends; many of these taught my children and I taught theirs-- adding the depth and complexity of commitment and loyalty to what I know as my own small town.

Other wonderful moments include the privilege of meeting all of the imaginative, eloquent and expressive writers who have come through my class! There are too many to list, but each such a joy. There were moments of revelation when the entire class saw something cool about the poem – Laurel, Liz, Jessica and Todd’s realizations about Donne’s Poem “Hymn to God, My God In My Sickness”, Amy Crout’s explanation of the structure of Hamlet, Andy Intlekofer’s “man is a cigarette,” (you had to be there), Honors 11 seeing how
carefully the dark play Macbeth told again the story of creation, fall, redemption and Geoff Banks and Charlie Friedman leaving class on the last day of “Macbeth” saying, “That was a cool play.” And so many more, Jake, Davy, Jen, Erin, Lizzie, Alexis, Dale, Missy and John… too many to list here—my last incomparable class, all the students whose bright faces have meant so much to me… all the variations of Kristen, of Alicia, of Megan far too many to list here which is why I wrote a novel – to tell the world about them.

While teaching at AACS moments of blessing came to me about my own family. It was there that I first heard Valerie sing-- just a solo line in a song but the chords echoed in my heart and I wondered if she might have a gift. It was at AACS that I had the privilege of watching that gift begin to develop under Cindy’s loving care. The fall after Val graduated when I did not hear her voice among the Chapel singers, I started to cry, for some dumb reason. Not just sniff, but sob. Tears flowed out of my eyes so fast my face and hands were wet. My nose was a river. Next to me sat Mike Boyle (who by the way is an excellent writer). He dug into his pocket and pulled out a ragged, shred of a tissue. This he offered to me, eyes accepting, no words needed.

One day, while scribbling vocab scores in my grade book during lunch, Andrea Anderson dragged my son Joe over to my desk. They ate lunch in my room and she wanted his support to tell me a daring idea. Eyes sparkling as only hers can, she took Joe’s arm and I saw Joe smile and press her hand close to his side. My mind blinked. What was that? I can’t remember what Andrea was talking about because I “saw” this sort of brightness surrounding them and I wondered if maybe… I shook it off. Hadn’t they vowed that they were only friends?

Though the fun and fulfillment of teaching beside my son Eric could be the subject of a longer literary work, something interesting happened before he joined the faculty. I was walking out of Chapel one day chatting with Seth Harris. Looking up, I saw seated on the top bench of the bleachers a lovely girl with huge dark eyes and the most exquisite, contemplative expression.
For some dumb reason, I couldn’t catch my breath. Seth waved to her. “Is that your girlfriend?” I gasped. “What?” he said, disgusted with my ignorance. “No! Family friend. R.J.’s sister.” Then I remembered. I had seen Care Napolitano once before at a multi-church function – she had been just 2 years old and had been sitting in blue stroller, sitting in her quiet, composed way, eyes wise and unblinking even then. Funny, that I remembered her so clearly.

Karl and I went through a lot together at school. Stitches, forgotten lunches, waiting together at games and practices, a collapsed lung, a no-hitter, digging Dixie Jones’ car out of the snow and he was at school with me on September 11. Next evening, we went to a prayer meeting. Standing beside him I sensed God calling him to give himself to the lost. As we walked together through that school year, I watched him wrestle with his faith. The next fall, his senior year, a chapel speaker asked if any students felt called to “the ministry.” My heart filled when Karl stood up with so many of his classmates. That year, he started a group that reached out to middle school students. He’s been doing so ever since. Sorry if I’ve misspelled, the stupid computer screen is all misty.
But AACS is not perfect and neither was my teaching. I made mistakes which I regret. And AACS has things that should be improved. If in leaving I could have three wishes for the school, they would be these listed below. I wish that

1. AACS would continue to be a praying community. I remember how opening my class with prayer changed my teaching for the better. Prayer is what has gotten us through all the tough times, what has been the foundation for the good things – and it is what will keep the good things about AACS alive.

2. AACS would establish a Teacher Advocacy Group. Years ago, at a teacher in-service day, Keith Pavlischek said that Christian Education is accomplished on the backs of the teachers. Administrators, visiting scholars and teachers gathered in the gym, nodded and snickered agreement. It’s true, it’s always been true, but it must stop. Now that we have plenty of staff to run take care of details like finances, and etc., my wish is that AACS would pour their resources
into the teachers. I wish they would establish this group and listen to it. This is what they will tell you: provide for the teachers. Keep class sizes down so that students get the attention they need and talented people stop burning out. Give teachers great benefits; give them the salaries they deserve. Remember that if they are paid well, if their physical needs are met, they will teach better. Even more freely and generously will they then devote themselves to teaching and inspiring kids.

3. Hold the standard high. In every way seek to create a safe, beautiful place where kids can learn their academics and the truth about the God we serve. Never give in to poor writing, incomplete math notebooks, Cliff Notes or cussing in Chapel. Never give up helping kids to “dream what God dreams” and to set about seeking to make those dreams come true.

One last word of advice: try ot be nice to everybody because you never know who
your kid is going to date and marry, or date and break up with or who might marry your daughter-in-law's cousin, or be in a band with or who will come to work with you!

May the Lord continue to bless others at AACS as He has blessed me and mine. I am trusting that He will be with me in my new adventure as He has been so graciously at AACS.

1 comment:

  1. Mrs. Nebbia - this is beautiful. I'm sitting at work with tears in my eyes and the pit of my stomach filled with nostalgia. We just had the Class of 2004's five year High School reunion and I got the same feelings you described here. All I could do is sit back and watch. Remember. Smile. Although my first years at AACS were tough for me, the encouragement to "pull through," and persevere were so important to the feelings and attitude I currently have towards the school. Those early experiences taught me to be a better person and I truly believe that they built half of my character as an adult. One of the teachers there once said to me that challenge doesn't build character, it reveals it. Thank you for posting those memories and encouraging us to "be nice." I can only think that Jesus would want us to do the same.
    - Melissa (Wise) Barrick, AACS Class of 2004.