The Unexpected Lesson

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“The Unexpected Lesson,” Ensign, Sept. 2004, 56

The Unexpected Lesson

Trying to reach one disruptive little girl taught me what kind of teacher I was called to be.

I must admit I felt somewhat underwhelmed when I received a call to teach the CTR 6 class in my ward. I acknowledged there would be some challenges for me as I reviewed the class list of 11 lively, intelligent, and somewhat unruly little souls. To stay ahead of this group would require energy, creativity, and diligent preparation. I accepted the call with whole-hearted determination to give it my best and make a difference in the lives of these children. But I did not expect the experience to afford any opportunity for my own growth or development. That, I thought, I would need to take care of in my personal study.

With love for the Savior and a fervent desire to serve Him, I went forward with joy to teach His gospel. As time passed, the class steadily improved in behavior, attention, understanding, and participation. They were a delight to be with—bright, eager, happy little disciples of Christ. All, that is, but one—a little girl named Angie (name has been changed). And, oh, what a handful she was! She jabbed, pushed, patted, and kicked her neighbors, broke crayons, and tore papers. She raised her hand, then refused to talk or gave silly, irreverent answers. When I strategically placed her chair so that she had no neighbors, she babbled or sang, making it next to impossible for me to teach. I managed to get through the stories and activities all right, but I recognized we did not have the Spirit with us in class. I did not have the Spirit with me.

Increasing the earnestness of my prayers and preparation, I pleaded with the Lord to help me reach this child—and not neglect the others in the process. Gradually my understanding of my calling expanded to include what I was called to be as well as what I was called to do. I realized it was not simply a call to teach the gospel. I had been called to represent the Savior in that little classroom. Some-how through me these precious children could come to know of His love and concern and preparations for them. I came to understand that through the way I interacted with Angie, she, as well as her classmates, would gain a feeling, good or bad, about the Savior and His Church. I now stretched to magnify every aspect of my calling.

I continued to prepare diligently for the lessons to be effective. Outwardly, nothing changed—we still had stories, played games, and colored—but inwardly my focus was on representing the Savior. I asked myself, “How would He look at this situation, or this child? What would He say? What would He do?” When Angie acted up or said she wanted to go to her mother during opening exercises, I showed her the things I had brought in my bag and told her what I had planned for class. More significantly, I sincerely expressed to her my hope that she would choose to stay and be part of our class-time activities. She always chose to stay and behaved so that she could. Gradually, our opening exercises and class time improved, but closing time still drained me completely. It seemed Angie had reached her limit by then and had had enough of sitting still and being quiet. Holding her on my lap was the only way I found I could restrain her, and even then it felt like a wrestling match. I held her close to me, sometimes firmly, whispering encouragement. “Just a little while longer,” I’d say. “It’s almost over.” And thus we endured weeks of closing exercises.

One day as I sat with Angie’s rigid and resisting body straining against my arms, a new thought entered my mind. Guided by a spiritual prompting, I whispered, “You don’t like it when our Primary ends, do you?” Tears welled up in my eyes as I felt the tension leave her small frame and she snuggled into my arms and shook her head in a wordless no.

Then, and for many closing exercises after that, I whispered assurances that we would come together every week. I promised her we would have stories and activities and we would learn more about Jesus, and I told her I would look forward to seeing her next time. Angie needed extra encouragement and attention, but her confidence and self-control grew steadily. CTR 6 thrived!

On the last Sunday of the year the children were gathered on blankets to listen to a story in sharing time. Angie reverently got up and came back to quietly ask me how to spell church, then went back to her place. I hadn’t even noticed she was writing, but she showed me her little journal as we walked to our classroom.

“Do you want to see what I writed?” she smiled up at me, offering the pocket-sized book. I looked down to see “I • CHURCH.” With my heart in my throat I breathed, “I’m so glad, Angie! I am so glad.”

I reflect on my thoughts when I accepted my calling. I did not expect the experience to offer opportunities for personal growth and development. But now I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for what the Lord taught me while I taught Primary.

Illustrated by Gregg Thorkelson