The Ripe Fruit of the Spirit

To start off this blog entry, I must confess that I have sinned, though I personally do not think my actions were of malicious intent. For the past several weeks, I have been working at a Christian summer camp, but I do not identify myself as a Christian. Did I sign a paper with a new Paper Mate ballpoint pen agreeing to become a born-again Christian? Yes. Am I now a born-again Christian? No. Did I still assume my responsibilities as a camp counselor/teacher aide morally and with good intentions? Absolutely. Judge away as you may, but please understand that I applied for this job to be around children and to help make the most out of their summer break.

Awesome! Now that that weight has been lifted off my shoulders, I can honestly begin this first blog entry.

The “Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.” Essentially, good Christians should live their lives with these attributes at the core of their values.

Having been in a classroom environment (for the past 7 weeks) that indefatigably reinforces these virtues, I genuinely believed that He got all of the basics – these characteristics could really create a foolproof, pristine society. This conviction was soon challenged when one of my students, Michael*, showed me the possibility of another fruit that He could have more explicitly stated – understanding.

Michael* is 5 years old and is quite the troublemaker in and outside of the classroom. He’s kind, though stubborn, and his favorite activity is reading (or at his level, he mostly points at pictures then describes the plot through a critical analysis of the overly animated drawings.) Lately, Michael has been more disruptive in class, and began cutting his peers in line/mimicking their sentences for no valid reason. A few days ago, I sent him to our camp director’s office following food-throwing in the cafeteria and rubbing saliva over a peer’s face during lunch. Michael’s punishments – no playtime and a parent-teacher conversation – were consequences from his actions. While Michael sat in the director’s office, however, his absence did not go unnoticed in the classroom. His peers were keen to recognize that Michael was “in trouble,” and proceeded to act in a very shameful manner. These kids, who were not disruptive throughout the duration of camp, suddenly became crass and terribly misguided. Stephanie* declared, “Miss C, Michael is gone in the office because he is a bad boy. Bad boys don’t belong here. He shouldn’t come back to class.” Dean* followed with, “Miss C, Michael should be in more trouble because he didn’t play with me during recess. He’s such a bad boy who needs to be in the office.” These children were clearly beginning to feel some sort of empowerment and glee by marginalizing “the bad boy,” Michael. More comments  ensued until my cooperating teacher, Ms. Stacy*, overheard and declared an end to talk regarding Michael. She appropriately addressed their comments as uncalled for, and established how unkind they were.

[In retrospect, I should have stopped those early conversations even before Stephanie’s first question began to form. I regret this, but am wholeheartedly grateful Ms. Stacy’s* words halted further taunts and allowed the children to reflect on how insensitive their language was.]

After a very heartfelt conversation with Ms.Stacy, whom I incredibly admire and respect, I learned a few more things about Michael that allowed me to appreciate understanding – what I believe is a very “ripe” fruit of the spirit. Although I cannot disclose (even ambiguously) much information about Michael due to respect of his privacy, I can say that his situation at home is unlike his peers, unfortunately. His outbreaks and behavior at camp/in class are a clear reflection of the unsettling circumstances he witnesses at home. [Here’s the kicker that’ll make you and I both wish I stopped those comments from forming: his life at home is already filled with confusion about his parents, ability to love, faith, and his sense of self – being misunderstood at school only perpetuates this.]

The purpose of this blog post is not to evoke pity for Michael and children like him; rather, this is reminder/call for administration and teachers to continue striving to be better. We must address classroom cultures and emphasize the importance of understanding one another. Ms. Stacy talks daily with Michael about his feelings and his actions – she understands him. The children assumed Michael’s demeanor warranted him a “bad person” label – they misunderstood him. The enforcement of Ms. Stacy’s empathy corrected the other children’s actions, and profoundly changed a potentially bully-filled atmosphere into a much needed safe space for Michael. This needs to become a regular reality, but sadly, this is a success story.* 

Though understanding ties in and overlaps with love, goodness, and most of the other attributes that comprise the “Fruit of the Spirit,” I think that teachers, especially those who instruct corresponding with faith, must also make understanding a priority. The responsibility to teach and learn how to understand (both between student + student and student + teacher)  is incumbent upon educators, as the rule-bearing figures for these children.

This experience was a wake-up call to one of many problems that can universally impact both the affluent and the disadvantaged children in schools. This was a glimpse at how potent teachers are in shaping children’s sense of self, their actions, and their perception of others. It is time for us all to be the Ms. Stacy; struggling students are not a problem – they just require a little more understanding.

* Names have been changed to respect the privacy of the children and my cooperating teacher.

* At another summer camp I volunteer at, my local Boys & Girls Club, the unstable family/home situation is the norm, and the campers have repeatedly expressed resentment of school/learning due to lack of understanding between the faculty and students. (see my nonexistent, though future blog post on Effective Teachers) 

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