Life is full of changes. In the past year I have gone from living at home and studying for my Honors degree in Primary Education, to getting married and living 100 km away from my Mum and Dad. I have also gone from being a student to working full-time for the first time in my life. Throw in a two-month honeymoon to America to meet my new in-laws, and that adds up to a whirlwind 12 months!
And now, at the ripe old age of 22, I find myself in the role of "the minister's wife." There is slight trepidation on my behalf at the sound of this job description. In my mind, a minister's wife is someone middle-aged, who cooks wonderful dishes for the potluck lunches and takes the ladies' Bible study group every Wednesday afternoon. My problem is I have a limited repertoire of dishes that are actually edible, and I work full-time so Wednesday afternoons are out!
In just eight months "on the job," I have been amazed at the expectations placed on ministers and their families. I have a newfound respect for the women whose husbands are dedicated to spreading the Good News to their communities. I never imagined there would be so many interruptions, so many jobs that had to be done yesterday, and so little time to spend together as a couple.
Although I am a novice and still have much to learn in both my job as a teacher and my job as a minister's wife, I believe I am already beginning to understand that there are a great many parallels in both professions. Increasingly, older teachers are telling me how much teaching has changed over the past two decades. No longer are we just teachers—we are substitute mothers; we are social workers; we are confidantes; we are judges; we are nurses. Similarly, the demands on ministers are increasing as our society faces the wide array of social disasters that we have created. My grade five students have given me a greater understanding of the needs of the congregation in our little church and have taught me a few important lessons. Meeting the needs of children in the classroom and the congregation in the church is getting harder.
1. Do you like me?
I have a vast range of children in my class, as does any other teacher. Some come from stable home environments, others from homes I never dreamed existed. Some have the skills and confidence to tackle and achieve goals, while others struggle to sort through the flood of emotions they are experiencing, let alone face the challenges I set for them in the classroom. My primary role was made very clear to me one day when one of my boys, Bradley,* came up to me with a simple, but serious question: "Mrs. Callum, do you like me?" I was taken aback at the honesty of his question and immediately put my arm around his shoulder and told him just how special he was to me. Of course I liked him. I pondered his question for a while and the sadness of the situation made me want to cry. Here was a child, at the age of ten, who had seen his dad go to prison for a violent assault. After his dad was released, he took care of Bradley because his mum didn't want him as she was living with another man. Mum and Dad are now back together, but mum can't sign notices that are sent home because she is illiterate. Dad's skills are not much better. Bradley has extreme learning difficulties which means he is at least six years behind his age group in many areas of school. And amidst all that, all he wanted to know was if I liked him.
I think I can apply that to the ministering role I have along side my husband. Everyone needs to feel loved. Everyone wants to have another person tell them they are special. Just this morning, we received a 5 a.m. phone call regarding a woman Mike had been studying with. She had overdosed on a cocktail of alcohol and prescription drugs. This was her sixth attempted suicide. The reason? She feels worthless. She feels as though nobody in the entire world cares. As far as she is concerned, she is a failure. We sat with her in the hospital for four and a half hours. Essentially, she too is asking the same question, "Do you like me?" All we could do was tell her she was special—of course we liked her. Why would we be out in the wind and rain at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning if we didn't think she was important? And the best part is that we were able to share with her that God loves her too. It was heart wrenching to see this lady, a mother with two lovely children, try to end her own life because it was too painful. She couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel or the cloud with the silver lining. She needed someone to tell her she was special.
My primary role as both a teacher and a minister's wife is to let love shine through everything I do. I need to take every opportunity to reaffirm people from all walks of Iife. I need to let them know that I like them, and so does God.
2. What's the magic word? Cooperation!
I team teach with another teacher who is responsible for the grade six class. This means we have 45 children in one room. Although at times we work as separate grades, the majority of our time is spent working as a whole unit. Obviously, with 45 little people who are testing their wings of independence and learning the skills necessary to operate in a community, there are bound to be conflicts. So it is in the church; there are some people who are wonderful facilitators of discussion and others who lack the skills to disagree without becoming aggressive. I guess maybe the only difference between primary school and church is the way we show aggressiveness—you don't see too many adults stamping their feel or pulling hair in church board meetings!
We saw a need within our classroom for lessons in working co-operatively with others. In particular, one of my boys had extreme difficulty even carrying out a simple conversation with someone without becoming aggressive or angry. The word "compromise" was not in his vocabulary. The solution we came up with was to schedule at least one and a half hours a week On a co-operative activity which required all the members of the group to work together to succeed. We called this time our "Tribe" session.
We strategically placed the children into groups of four. The children stayed in these groups for a term, which is about 12 weeks. We placed the aggressive children with those lho had well-developed skills of negotiation. We put the children who were struggling academically with those who found learning easy and enjoyable. We sometimes put strong personalities in the same group in order for them to learn they can not always be the boss. We made sure the group had a combination of both grades and sexes, and we placed the quiet children in groups where we hoped they would feel safe enough to assert themselves more. In each session all group members had defined roles and clear job descriptions such as the recorder, the time keeper, the materials person, and the reporter. If they didn't do their jobs properly, the tribes could not succeed.
The difference in our classroom after 12 weeks of tribes was amazing! During this time the children had planned a trip to the moon and gradually eliminated unnecessary items as they could only take five items altogether. They had created posters which showed the name of their tribes, along with rules for their behavior, and pictures which portrayed the identity of their tribes. (One tribe named themselves "Three Kings and a Queen" and have a slogan, "We treat each other like royalty!" I think that's one we could all live by.) They had also made up word puzzles, acted in plays, and problem solved as a team. The benefits of these activities were not limited to just the tribe time. At the start of the year, the boy who could not co-operate or compromise sabotaged his tribe's efforts because he didn't get his own way. He is now working effectively as part of a team (most of the time!) and contributing in a positive way to his tribe. His behavior in general has also improved. He has less difficulty following instructions and fewer confrontations with me or the other students.
I see a need for tribes in our churches. Inevitably, there are going to be conflicts of varying degrees of severity. These conflicts can result in a positive manifestation of the individuality in the church, or they can be extremely damaging to the morale and cohesiveness of the church. If church members are equipped with the necessary skills for effective communication, problem solving and conflict resolution, surely our churches will benefit. Perhaps there should be time in Sabbath School for us to work cooperatively on a trip to the moon. Perhaps we should have a Sabbath afternoon time where we decide the basic guidelines on how we are to treat each other. Perhaps, every once in a while, it would do us the world of good to learn from our children and work co-operatively in a fun but purposeful activity, each carrying out designated roles to the best of our ability and achieving the end goal together. I can see the benefits would be far reaching in our churches, just as it was in my classroom.
3. Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility!
Each day there seems to be more demands on my time as teacher, There are wonderful opportunities for the students. We have a Life Education program, special performances presented by visiting artists from Greenpeace and numerous chances to pat snakes, blue-tongue lizards and other crazy, creepy critters in the show "We're All Little Aussies." At the end of the day, however, I often wonder when I get time to teach the basics—things like equivalent fractions and how to use a question mark in a sentence. Some days I don't feel like I have fulfilled my obligation as an educator. But when I see the faces of my children when they become aware of the death of the Wandering Albatross due to long-line fishing, and their enthusiasm for campaigning to save this endangered species, I realize that they have learned. They have learned to be passionate about something that is important to them. They have learned to care for animals who are so often victims of civilization and its demands, They have learned how to effectively stand up for what they believe in. Ultimately, they have learned they do have the power to make a difference in this world.
In our churches, things often don't go as planned. Perhaps the power went off Sabbath morning and the potluck lunch is not ready when church is finished. Perhaps the young people have an item that they'd really like to share, but they didn't remember to ring the senior elder and have it included in the program earlier in the week. Maybe someone really needs to be prayed for, but it's not on the agenda for today. In all these situations, so much more can be gained from being flexible. I guess it comes down to the age old question, "Does it really matter?" In the whole scheme of things, is it important? If the answer is "Well, not really," then go along for the ride and enjoy it. You never know, a young person may be busting to share his or her exciting experience this week, or a person's Iife may be changed from the half an hour spent in prayer instead of the usual Sabbath School preliminaries. And after all, so what if the soup is cold? This may become one of those church legends that are brought up and laughed about every now and then!
A primary school classroom and a congregation really aren't that different after all. And my role as a teacher and a minister's wife aren't that different either. I know I'm only a beginner in both aspects, but I can use the knowledge I have and continue to learn from those who are older and wiser. I can use the day-to-day experiences I have from my teaching to help my ministry and vice versa. I can strive to learn more about what it means to be a teacher, a wife, a partner in ministry, and one day, a mother. In the process, I hope I will become more like the person God intends me to be. Along the way, I hope I can help others to do the same.
*Not his real name.