The Tuesday bell-ringer is pretty basic. Students answer a handful of fill in the blank and multiple choice review questions. Take a few hands. Get the right answers. Move on with class. Teaching 101 - Right? Needless to say, it goes a bit differently in my class. I have replaced a few of those classroom staples to make the most out of this mundane task. Even for my reluctant students, answering our Tuesday review questions is stimulating, simply by assigning some nontraditional responses to the task. We might impersonate animals, or stretch in complicated yoga poses, do the latest dance moves, or even chase each other around with chainsaws (disclaimer: not real chainsaws, and context is everything). Now, you may think me mad, but you will think no longer still when I describe the wise ways I assess students. By watching the room, I can quickly assess whether or not a student truly knows the answer. If they do the wrong movement, or if their eyes wander, or they are gassing up their chainsaws in full commitment, I know what my next step is. With the right culture and procedures, it seems to be a pretty foolproof system to get a quick temperature of the classroom.
January 8th, 2019 wasn't unlike any other Tuesday, but as fate and irony would have it, it was the day my “wise ways” got the best of me. On the heels of a discussion about resolutions and goal setting, I assigned exercises (the most popular resolution) to Tuesday’s multiple choice review section, admitting that I probably could use the exercise as I had put on a few pounds. I cannot say that I remember the movements for “A”, “B”, and “D”, but “C” I remember distinctly. “C” was a lunge. In the midst of all the excitement of answering with greatest flexibility, the added pressure to the already stressed pair of khakis caused a swift split. In front of 27 sixth graders and a second-day student teacher, I ripped my pants -- good. Oh, real good. In just a single stifled breath, I saw the many endings to this embarrassment and struggle, but none of them resolved with mended pants. So I confessed what had happened, we all laughed quite a bit (admittedly, me less than them), and eventually, we moved forward and continued class. Even if it rips my pants. Even if my pants are ripped. I will have fun.
The Word of God speaks directly to the other four rules of my classroom: being ready, responsible, respect, and giving your best effort; however, where in the Bible does it say anything about having fun? There are many who would agree (believers and nonbelievers) God has eliminated all forms of fun. “Haven’t you seen Footloose?” It is true, the Bible provides boundaries and contexts for celebrating, but it is important to note Jesus attended quite a few parties, and will be hosting one someday soon (Rev 19:6-9). Another notable fun-haver was David (ancestor to Jesus), who enjoyed playing loud music and dancing in the streets (2 Sam 6:14-22). Finally, it was his son, Solomon, who states that God gives us pleasures in this life (and within His law) to remove us from the daily toil (Ecc 3:12,13). But ultimately, laughter, dancing, and other forms of fun are seasonal affairs. (Ecc 3:4)
The hapless truth is no matter how much fun I bring into my classroom, students’ lives can be taxing and toilsome. Many go home to unfortunate circumstances, some to go home unspeakable things, and a few don’t truly have a “home” to go home to. I work hard to give every educational opportunity to help students eventually leave those things behind, but in the here and now, in the day-in-day-out struggle when life can simply stink, dance moves, shouting, lots of sugar, and laughter are the best medicine. However this is merely suppressing the symptoms. We all need something more substantial to reach the root, which will give us a long-term, life-altering prognosis. For that, you need joy.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” - James 1:2-4
Joy isn’t merely a distraction from my circumstance, but on the contrary, acknowledges that my circumstance will be met with a steadfast attitude to keep me moving forward. This means my metaphorical pants may be intact or torn, but either way, I can praise my Father, be fulfilled, and keep moving forward. When I am holding firm or uprooting my life. When I am building new habits or slowly removing the bad ones. When I am winning a battle with sin or fighting desperately to run away. When I am praising God for an answered prayer (or two) or beating my chest to have Him hear my plea. When I am rich, when I am poor, when I am single, when I am married, when I am healthy, when I am weak, when I am finding, and when I am seeking, when I am having fun, and when I am in misery, I can praise my Father, be fulfilled, and keep moving forward. Even matched with the greatest test we know, the sting of death, the joy of the Lord becomes more evident than ever and is our sustaining strength.
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
So, I must amend my final rule to make it more precise. I will not have fun. I will have joy.
While smiles, encouragement, singing, playfulness, dancing, and laughter are some of the most fun things to include in classrooms, and simply life, ultimately, these can and should be used to also showcase our joy. Initially, these surface level behaviors may not be noticed for what they truly are until we are faced with persecution or our ongoing struggle becomes more apparent. So we must be steadfast in our joy, not merely rejoicing when we are the recipient of a great gift or when things go our way. Where, then, is the contrast? We must find our way to celebrate when we have much to mourn. We must sing out loud in the middle of persecution. We must find a way to be playful when our mortal body is giving in and giving up. We must find encouraging words when we are treated unfairly. And, yes, we must find a way to laugh when we rip our pants in front of roomful of people. These are the moments, more than any other, that make our testimony. Heads will begin to scratch and question will be induced. “How can you possibly be so different? How are you happy? Why do you have hope? (1 Peter 3:15).” Our answer: It’s simple. I will have joy...Now, let me tell you why.