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No Penance Required

by Debbie OConnor  
9/06/2009 / Education

It's circle time. Several of the four and five year olds surrounding me are excited about school and can't wait to hear what I have to say. Three of them aren't looking at me at all. One is rocking back and forth, another is facing the opposite direction, while another is adjusting and readjusting his position on the rug, thus irritating his neighbor.

"I know!" Sally Anne shouts as I open my mouth to ask a question.

I laugh and say, "I haven't even asked the question, Sally Anne. How can you possibly know the answer?"

I've never thought I had the answers before the questions were asked.

She grins confidently, leaving her hand in the air as I ask the children to tell me something about what we've been learning over the past few days. I deliberately choose a child who waited for the question this time. Sally Anne knows she has to take turns answering with the other kids, but that doesn't stop her from becoming angry when she isn't chosen. She turns around, wraps her arms around her knees and sticks out her lower lip. I keep teaching, knowing that before long, Sally Anne will become too interested to remember to pout.

I would never pout because someone else was chosen.

Later, I have to correct Sally Anne for swinging a doll around. She glares at me angrily and yells, "I never do anything right!" Throwing the doll at my feet, Sally scuttles across the room as fast as she can go.

I would never resent correction.

I give her a few minutes, then I cross the room to the corner where she's sulking. She glares at me angrily and starts slamming her head into the floor.

I would never punish myself.

Seized with sudden inspiration as I pray under my breath, I sit down beside the furious child and ask her to stop hurting herself.

"Sally Anne, did you know that it is my job to correct you?" I ask.

She looks up at me, surprise in her tear-filled eyes.

"I'm a teacher, Sally Anne. Like your parents, I'm here to help you. I have a question for you. Is a baby born knowing everything he or she needs to live?"

"No," Sally Anne said, drawing out the word and laughing at the idea.

I smile at her enthusiasm. "Of course not. A baby needs parents. They can't even walk or feed themselves. As we grow, we can do more and more things on our own, but that doesn't mean we know everything we need to know. You're only five years old. Do you know how to drive a car?"

"No," she yells in a silly voice.

At this point I see that we've drawn a crowd of her classmates who are more interested in our discussion than they are playing.

"But you do know how to play, don't you?"

"Yes!" she yells, delightedly.

"Now, Sally. If Jackson was playing with his toy car and started swinging it around the room as you walked by, what might happen?"

"I know!" she shouts. "He might hit me!" Sally glares at Jackson as if the imaginary offense had actually taken place.

"Mrs. Debbie, Jacob said a potty word!" Michael whines, tugging at my shirt to make sure I am listening.

I nod at Sally Anne, keeping eye contact. "Just a minute, Michael. It's Sally Anne's turn to talk to me, but I'll be right with you. That's right, Sally Anne. If Jackson was swinging a toy while you were walking by him, he might hit you. Now, why do you think I asked you to stop swinging the doll?"

Sally Anne looks at her feet and mumbles, "'Cause I might hit someone."

"Exactly. I can't let you do something that might hurt your friends. Do you think I'm angry with you?"

"Yes!" she yells before turning around and folding her arms across her chest.

I stroke her hair and walk around in front of her. "Sally Anne, look at me. I'm not angry. I'm trying to teach you. I don't want you to accidentally hurt a friend by swinging that doll. I want you to listen to me and choose something else to do with the doll. What is the right way to play with it?"

Sally mumbles something unintelligible, but she looks up at me with some understanding.

"I don't want you to be angry or run off and hurt yourself. I want you to learn from your mistake and make a better choice."

Teacher, learn YOUR lesson.

Sally nods and throws her arms around me.

"I love you, Sally," I whisper into her hair.

"Mrs. Debbie! Jacob said a potty word!" Michael is still waiting for justice to be doled out. Donning my super preschool teacher cape, I whisk off into the abyss of conflict that is playtime.

And life.

We have a Father who is infinitely more capable and knowledgeable than we are. He sees the end from the beginning and knows everything about us. Like Sally Anne, we want to answer the questions before they're asked. We resent correction and sometimes beat ourselves up when we realize we have earned it.

On this side of eternity I need a Teacher and so do you. God only wants us to listen, learn from our mistakes and make better choices. He paid the price for our sin -- no penance required.

Turn to Him and live.

Author's note: This story, while based on my general classroom experience, is not factual. The children's characters are either conglomerations of many different, typical childlike behavior quirks or completely fictional.

Debbie O'Connor lives just north of New Orleans with her husband, Jim, and their two children. Jesus has been her savior for 18 years. Contact Debbie at [email protected].

Copyright 2008 Debbie O'Connor

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