Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Red Crayon

Is this bad blogging form?  The following post was recycled.  I originally wrote it this past fall for a magazine contest.  When I sent it off, I knew it was not a contender but I was very tickled to have finished something I started (NOT my forte.) I've changed it up slightly to fit my little corner of the Interwebs.

The clouds are moving in. It's about to get personal and very dark here at The Crooked Clothesline.  If you like your blogs the way you like your laundry...mountain-fresh and stain-free...well, then, you might want to move along for now.  And if you're my principal, it would be best for you and me both if you just turned away from the ugly truth, shielded your eyes from this marred and sweat-stained load of stinky laundry.

You see, the persistent, melty, red crayon in the dryer of my life is this: I am a loser. Oh, I don’t mean a “Nobody likes me, might as well eat some worms” loser. I am a “Stand back! Do NOT hand that to me if you ever want to see it again!” loser. I lose every piece of paper I touch. Whether that paper has been used to print a grocery list, federal currency or my teaching contract, I will lose it. I’ve lost countless phone bills, my proof of car insurance and my Social Security card. When I was a fifth-grader and the whole fifth grade was climbing onto a bus for the big field trip to the airport, I had to stay behind at school because I had lost my permission slip. (And if Mr. Waite is still alive, you are welcome to look him up and verify this sad fact.)

Losing paperwork at home is inconvenient and frustrating.  At school, as a teacher responsible for piles and piles of papers, including legal documents, this is a horrific disaster. What I seem to lose over and over again, no matter how many different organizational systems I try, is student work. Yes, I am that teacher. (I am assuming my principal took my kindly advice and has moved on to enjoy other more positive, uplifting pockets of the Internet.) Sometimes I lose one student’s late writing assignment. Sometimes it’s an entire stack of reading tests. It happens on a regular basis and, obviously, it’s entirely unacceptable. I have neither the time nor sufficient behavioral health coverage to fully explain how this defect of mine affects my self-esteem and confidence as an educator. But it’s awful.

It’s like cracking your shin in the same spot on the coffee table several nights in a row without time for the goose egg to go down between injuries. It’s more and more painful every time. Eventually, your shin will turn to the consistency of applesauce and you won’t be able to walk anymore. Every time I lose another paper or stack of papers, I’m more and more ashamed of myself. I feel worn down a little more. It’s a regular reminder that I’m not really cut out for this most noble of professions and I don’t belong in the classroom.

Thanks to my self-deprecating sense of humor, I had always been able to laugh at myself about my tendency to misplace things. I’d always made jokes about it with co-workers. However, after being so open about my embarrassing flaw for so long, I’m starting to feel like the high school sleaze who the whole school knows is making out with a different guy in the backseat every weekend - I haven’t any pride.

Last year, I had to choose between preserving the last milligram of pride I had left as a semi-competent teacher or maintaining my integrity as a person. You see, some genius decided to put me on a committee. And give me responsibilities. I think it was my principal. (You don't think she's reading this, do you?  I mean, I did tell her...ya' know...not to.) The committee was collecting data to help teachers analyze the effectiveness of our math instruction. Each teacher would administer a designated math test and pass the scores on to the committee member representing her grade level. Then, we highly-organized and responsible grade-level reps would reassemble to share this data amongst ourselves. However, immediately after giving the assessment to my own class, I lost my entire stack of graded tests before I managed to record the scores.

It wasn’t a huge deal at first because I had some time before the committee would meet again. I basically ransacked the joint, flipping madly through every sheet of paper in my classroom until I had pretty much licked my index finger print clean off. As the next committee meeting grew near, I began to panic. I knew I hadn’t thrown them away - I wasn’t an idiot, regardless of the nasty rumor going around in my head. I certainly hadn’t incinerated them or flushed them down the toilet. They were in that classroom somewhere. I knew without a doubt I would find them someday. Unfortunately, I knew from past experience it was highly possible that “Someday” would be too late. Like when I found my unsigned airport permission slip in my desk the last week of fifth grade. So I had to make a decision.

I couldn’t bear to tell my principal that I had once again lost something. I couldn’t take another moment of feeling incompetent - another crack from the coffee table on my bruised and mushy self-esteem. I was now teetering precariously on the line between being a loser of papers and being a Total Loser. In a dark moment, it occurred to me that I could just make up those missing scores. I was familiar with my students’ abilities. This information wasn’t going into the grade book. I could just plug fake grades into the computer. No one would know and no one would care.

But, of course, God would know. Jesus told his followers, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”1

Pride certainly falls under the category of worldly wealth. Pride, so unimportant in the overall scheme, was one of the few things I could afford to lose. So I made up my mind to go to the next committee meeting prepared to share my teammates’ scores and to admit that I had temporarily misplaced my own set of tests. I would hand over my last little scrap of pride, the size of an elbow patch, and brave any possible reprimands from my principal and/or looks of unspoken disdain from my co-workers. It was very difficult to walk into that meeting knowing that I was going to be exposed as foolish and incompetent yet again but I knew that I would tell the whole truth.

However, the subject never came up. There was no time for that particular part of our overall task. This happened two times. Twice, I walked into the committee meeting knowing that I would be revealing my failure and sacrificing the remnant of my pride. Twice, the principal pushed the completion of that one assignment to the back burner for a while longer.

Finally, as the end of the quarter neared, an email was sent out to the committee members declaring a final due date for the information. Apparently, God does care about the little things because suddenly, my set of tests showed up in the classroom, like my own little ram in the thicket. Trying to follow Jesus, I had handed my pride over to God and He kept it intact. I ended up committing an after-school violation of church and state there on the spot, by thanking God right out loud for his grace.

In the end, I entered my scores and was able to present them as part of the fourth grade data. Subsequently, my principal was not forced to fire me. 

Oh, look!  The clouds are clearing. The sun has returned above The Crooked Clothesline.  

I think, though, it's quite possible the infuriating red crayon, marking up all of my laundry with a scarlet D for disorganized, is going to be with me all of my life. Maybe I should be thankful for this defect because it certainly keeps me turning to God again and again. Maybe without these unattractive stains, I would not be as sharply aware of my need for God.  As much as I hate being disorganized, I would hate even more to miss out on experiencing the wonderful, crazy ways He shows His love in the midst of my chaos....
Psalm 124 in action

1 New International Version (©2011)

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