By Mahlon Miller
Editor’s Note: Mahlon Miller, 31, is an Old Order Amish school-teacher and father of four daughters who lives in rural northern Indiana. Below, The Lagrange County Visitors Bureau in Indiana is our “test sponsor” for the week. Click on the tile to learn more about what is going on in the world’s third largest Amish community!
The new school term has started, the long summer is finally over and my high-backed teacher’s chair feels very comfortable indeed. Comfortable to the physical frame, but even more comfortable to the heart. For the chair brings with it many things near and dear to me. With the teachers chair comes hearty good mornings, daily singings, softball games, strong coffee and Snickers candy bars. Of course there are also unfinished lessons, failing grades and students that throw up on their arithmetic books. But these are infrequent occasions and soon forgotten.
We are now at the end of our third week of the young school year and things are beginning to settle into a routine.
During the first couple of days I started to think my fifth year of teaching would be a breeze: the class was quiet, the students well-behaved, and the teacher organized. My lessons went smoothly and were good. I thought I was well on my way to attaining “super teacher status.” But by the second week my bubble went “pop.” Lessons become more difficult and the novelty of the new year began to wear off for the students.
Henry’s habit of dawdling and daydreaming during class reasserted itself. James was still stuck in his habit of hurrying through his work and making a guess if he doesn’t understand it then grabbing his library book to lose himself in novels that hold more interest to him than classwork. Sarah still hates penmanship and doesn’t try to keep it a secret. The lower grades don’t remember to talk English during recess. Boys are wasting paper towels. Little Esther cries because it was her turn to ring the bell and somebody else beat her to it. The six graders have forgotten how to work complex division problems.
By the end of the second week I only had a few shreds of super teacher status left.
Now those are gone too. I am just an ordinary teacher again. An ordinary teacher who struggles to get all his classes in on time. An ordinary teacher who sits down to big stacks of lessons to grade after the children have gone home. And ordinary teacher who lies in bed at night pondering how to speed up Henry, slow down James, get Sarah to cheer up and buckle down ,and dry up Esther’s tears.
Being ordinary has a bright side, though. If you are ordinary you are human. And if you are human the children can connect with you. The more ordinary I become, the more I am surrounded by students who want to tell me about their pony or puppy or baby brother or how they scraped their knee up while climbing a tree or what kind of bubble gum they like best.
The older ones talk about who in their family has the new baby and who is getting married when and how soon they will fill their silo and what kind of gun they will use to hunt deer this fall.
As the first weeks of the school year passed I found myself listening to stories about broken lawn mowers, camping trips, and cakes that flopped. I realized I didn’t want to be a super teacher. I like being ordinary. Ordinary people are the easiest to love and connect with. And love and connection are what life is all about.