I've taught elementary school for years, and I usually find it a joy to try to design and deliver lessons using fresh approaches to the curriculum.
One year, though, teaching my second-grade class became hard going when the school district adopted new programs and evaluation models. I resented these changes; I felt that the testing schedule and the new expectations for such young children were unreasonable.
One curriculum requirement that particularly rankled me was a series of geometry lessons concerning congruence. The children were required not only to read and recognize the word, but they were also expected to determine what shapes were congruent. For children struggling with basic arithmetic skills such as "borrowing" in subtraction, this seemed like an unnecessary burden.
But I complied and taught the congruence lessons, using the worksheets provided. Grading the papers, though, was discouraging. Clearly, my students didn't understand the concept. They marked as congruent, squares of different sizes, as well as ovals paired with circles. With the benchmark tests on the horizon, I worried the children wouldn't be ready.
I was particularly concerned for my Spanish-speaking student, who was repeating my class at her dad's insistence. She had arrived that year speaking almost no English. Special arrangements had been made for her to sit in on a first-grade class to learn the alphabet, but she had difficulty remembering information for even a short time. To expect her to read and use the word "congruent" on a test seemed very unfair to me.
I spent a lot of time seething, which took a toll on my energy.
I found a helpful idea, though, in a book called "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," written by the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy. In the Glossary, under the heading, "Angels," she wrote: "God's thoughts passing to man; spiritual intuitions, pure and perfect; the inspiration of goodness, purity, and immortality, counteracting all evil, sensuality, and mortality" (pg. 581).
I was intrigued by the idea that the thoughts I was really looking for - my desire to help my students make progress - actually came from God. Wasn't this desire an offering of "goodness, purity, and immortality" that God would want to bless with the presence of angels? Wouldn't it be the purpose of these angels to deliver the inspiration I needed to meet my students' needs with on-target lesson plans?
I concluded that it was. Every morning, I mentally affirmed that I was in the presence of angels.
Still, we made little progress with the congruence lessons. It seemed that the worksheets were the problem. The children didn't have the experience of translating a two-dimensional picture into a three-dimensional concept.
At one point, I realized I was actually enjoying resenting the program. It felt good to be self-righteous and superior. Thinking about this, it occurred to me that the second part of Mrs. Eddy's description of angels, "...counteracting all evil, sensuality, and mortality," could come into play.
As I prayed in the mornings I began to see that the pleasure I derived from feeling resentful was really a kind of sensuality. And fear? That was appearing to me with distressing pictures of failure - failure to adopt appropriate standards, failure to help the children meet those standards, failure of the children to progress. I saw that fear and resentment, both evil, were interfering with my listening for God's thoughts, and I made an effort to stop walking down the road of blame and discouragement.
After praying for a few days, I realized that the students were also hearing God's thoughts; it wasn't up to me to make them understand. I felt wonderfully relieved and no longer afraid. My energy and enthusiasm returned.
One morning, while I was standing at the overhead projector, a simple way to teach the concept occurred to me. Using geometric shapes and shadow play, I demonstrated which pairs were congruent and which were not.
When grading the papers that afternoon, I was happy to find that all the children understood the lesson, including my Spanish student, who passed her tests and was later promoted to third grade.
We had all heard the angels.