Few things are more exciting to me than fresh starts, and today's first day of school was no exception. I have 109 students this year – three sections of sophomores in Biblical Ethics and two sections of freshmen in New Testament. I've taught 25% of these kids in previous years, but the rest are newbies for me, so I've got a lot of new names and faces to learn (I give myself no longer than two weeks to get them down, as that's important).
What a great day: late start (for the kids, that is) at 9:30; shortened 40-minute class periods; lots of familiar faces (and even a few hugs) from former students. Now in my third year teaching the same classes, I actually feel as if I finally know what I'm doing, and having done some initial prep work the previous two years, I could concentrate more on the students without being so distracted by the details. It was fun.
After the initial awkward welcomes and greetings, I live-narrated a 3-minute digital scrapbook of pictures I threw together in iPhoto as a way to introduce myself. Set to Randy Newman's song, "You've Got a Friend in Me," the slideshow moved quickly, and at the end, I invited the students to ask any question they might want to ask as follow-up to what they saw.
A lot of questions were predictable (What's your middle name? Do you have any pets? What were you thinking having four girls so close together?). Here was the funniest question of the day (with exact phrasing): "Mr. Dunham, I'm trying to figure it out, but how would you describe your style of dress?" I confessed I wasn't sure I had one, so this girl came up with one for me: "I'm going to call it 'comfy-casual.'" "Works for me," I said. She smiled, and just like that, we bonded.
Next, I handed out an over-sized notecard to each of the students and, over the course of the 15 minutes or so, asked them to write out and complete the following sentences, which we would share and talk about as a group:
- "I hope Ethics/New Testament class…"
- "I need Ethics/New Testament class…"
- "I expect Ethics/New Testament class…"
The answers were what you might expect – "fun, interesting," etc. – but some went into more detail on their actual cards, which I collected (along with two prayer requests) at the end of class. Some of the kids really got that my classes are meant to be more than requisites for graduation (which they are, requisites, that is); their hopes, needs, and expectations were heartfelt in their desire to learn and walk with God, and I was glad to read them along with the things for which they asked prayer.
Those requests were interesting as well. I was a bit surprised how honest some of them were, even on the first day. There are always the medical requests for sick grandparents or pets (not necessarily in that order), but one theme I picked up on more than usual was a specific stated tension between kids and their fathers (very rarely their mothers). With a slight lump in my throat, I thought a lot about this as I put my girls to bed tonight, saying a prayer for my own kids as well as those I have at school. Stuff like this must break God's heart; I know it does mine.
Tomorrow, we'll deal with more of the nuts and bolts stuff (syllabus, readings, assignments, etc.) before I turn them lose for the weekend with no homework (I don't give any over weekends anyway) and we get into things in earnest next week. But I don't want to lose sight of the realities with which these students began trusting me even the first day out of the blocks. Their busy and dramatic worlds are as jumbled and confusing as anybody's, and I hope/need/expect Ethics/New Testament class to be some part of God's work in their lives this coming year. Let it be so, Lord, in too many ways to count.