A six-year-old looked over at his dad on their way home from school one November day and queried, “Is Santa Claus real?” (In a moment, the rest of that story...don’t jump to the last paragraph of this article until you’ve read the in-between sentences.) Since Dad was a parent, school teacher, and Bible class teacher, the question planted a seed in his mind. It wasn’t too many years before that this young parent was asking that same question. In less than a decade the Santa reality dilemma had been and always will be replaced with inquiries about things such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco, world suffering, and the dreaded birds and bees sex issues... Indeed, where did the easy questions go? How to respond to all the childish and childlike curiosities and prepubescent challenges is what being a parent is all about.
I’m reminded of an old folk song that I first heard sung by Peter Paul & Mary back in the Sixties. It adequately expressed it this way: “Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by; and feed them on your dreams, the one you pick’s the one you’ll know by.” I’m not exactly sure what that anti-establishment, hippy guitarist (forgive the stereotypical judgmentalness, please) meant by that last phrase, but I like the sentiment of the song. It’s up to us parents to balance the imaginative with the reality allowing our children to be kids…they just don’t need to grow up sooner than necessary.
Children need a balance of mental, physical, and emotional stability (of course the spiritual can include all three); and they need the consistency of a good home, school, and church (the latter with exceptional Bible classes and youth group activities that offer spiritual, service, and social opportunities). As the wise king Solomon stated in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” While the home and church can provide the spiritual that encompasses mental, physical, and emotional steadiness, the school also plays a vital role. Most children past the age of five spend a lot of time in an educational classroom. The teacher becomes an extremely essential role model. To reach their boxed students teachers must be alive, energetic, enthusiastic facilitators who plan effectively, communicate efficiently, and care deeply (about subjects and students).
Now at the age of 62, this life-long learner and professional educator has been going into a classroom at some level almost every fall since he was 5 years old. When colleagues or students ask me when I plan to retire, my response is always something like this: “When I can’t walk into my classroom on a daily basis and act passionate about what and whom I’m teaching, I will know it’s time to put myself out to pasture.” I often ask my classes if they’ve ever seen me down, negative, or unhappy in the classroom. So far they’ve all answered, “Never!” I then inquire if they think I’ve ever felt down, negative, or unhappy when I’ve walked into their classroom. “Guess so.” “Probably.” “Maybe.” Those are some of their replies. The key is the word “act” in the above response statement. Teachers must, to at least some degree, be actors, entertainers…they must bring fun as well as enlightenment into their boxes. This means having genuine enthusiasm and sometimes thinking outside the box about strategies and methods. No, there is no contradiction in my mind between “act” and “genuine” the way I think of those terms. If I can’t enjoy my time in the classroom, then I shouldn’t be there. My students should enjoy it as well. The content taught must come alive in students’ minds and hearts and that takes a passionate teacher.
A brief word here to all you Sunday school teachers. The goal should be to so grip the interest of the children so that at some point they are ready to express the sentiment of one small child in his made-up-on-the-spot prayer, “Dear God, count me in!”
I am continually reminded of the words to another favorite song of mine. I actually sang this song on the birth day of my 4th child back in 1987, sitting in a hospital rocking chair while holding him in my arms near his incubator:
If it weren’t for kids have you ever thought, there wouldn’t be no Santa Claus;
Or look what the stork just brought, thank God for kids?
And we’d all live in a quiet house without Big Bird or Mickey Mouse
And Kool Aid on the couch, thank God for kids.
Thank God for kids there’s magic for awhile, a special kind of sunshine in a smile.
Do you ever stop to think or wonder why the nearest thing to heaven is a child?
Cycling fully back to that opening inquiry about the existence of Mr. Claus, how did I reply? I used the Socratic method of answering a question with a question, “What do you think?” Upon learning of my son’s renewed faith in the reality of Jolly Old Saint Nick, this parent agreed and changed the subject. I must add that this is the same child who had stated previously at age five, “The next time God makes a world, I wish He would make Superman and Star Wars real!” The memories and rewards of parenting and teaching are endless.
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