By April Icsman
Although now I serve as the principal of Jubilee Christian School in Pittsburgh, I have spent almost 40 years in education in six states during many other things, including “guest” teaching.
“Guest” teaching, aka, substitute teaching has to be the hardest job in education. One of the problems a sub runs into is not enough material for the students. Now if I am teaching in an English or even history class, I can improvise, but in the elementary levels, you many times teach all subjects. Also, my opinion is there is a reverse correlation to teaching difficulty and age; thus, the hardest grades to teach are the youngest.
One day I found myself with about 20 minutes, 25 2nd graders before swimming class—time to panic! Luckily, it was in the morning and not after lunch, so they were not “wired” yet. I decided to have them get in a circle for an “All About Me” time. One thing you can depend on is that second graders will want to talk about themselves. Now it might not be true or even plausible, but I can assure you, it will be entertaining.
I asked them to proceed to the back of the room and sit in a circle, tell me their name and one thing about themselves. For those non-teachers out there, you might think that sounds easy enough.
Ah contraire! Start with the concept of a circle and taking turns. It is a Herculean task to accomplish even that, depending on the class. This particular time after we finally got seated, I started with myself and told the class how my name is Mrs. Icsman and I even put it on the board and then proceeded to tell them how everyone mispronounces my name. It is pronounced “Iceman.” I told them about how many times words do not look like they sound, and I was proud of myself for coming up with a mini-lesson.
Remember imprinting is a very powerful force in the younger grades, second only to the concept of outdoing the next student. Whatever the first person says, sticks with most of the students. Not wanting to be outdone, the next student will say something very similar to the first person. For example, if the first person says, “I like filet mignon, with asparagus slightly seared with a lemon sauce” all of a sudden most of the students like the same thing, despite the fact they have no idea what it is. Or they will hear one focus on one thing the previous student said and associate with it. “Asparagus” reminds them of “Gus” on Disney’s Cinderella, so they like Cinderella.
Since I had started with my name and where I was from, this began a litany of mispronunciation and misspelling stories from the students. One girl insisted she was born in France, although when I asked her how longed she lived there, she said she still did. I calmly explained some geography and moved on. Another girl told us she was born in a barn. She added emphatically “literally.” Since clearly this was not the first time she had told this tale and since I had learned my lesson with previous students in the circle, I skipped a follow-up question, said, “Oh,” then moved to the next student.
One of the last students was a very articulate boy named Brien, NOT Brian. He told the story how he was named after his father, Brien with an “e”. He finished his story with “The computer always puts a line under it.” He was not upset with the computer, but laughed about it and was clearly resigned to the fact he would spend his life having the computer think he misspelled his own name.
As always, I learned so much that day from the children, but Brien’s story resonated with me even more than usual. He was proud to be different, proud to be named after his father.
For those of us who are Christians, does the computer put a line under our name? Are we different? Are we proud to be God’s children? In this world but not of the world? According to scripture, we are “strangers and aliens (Ephesians 2:19 ESV),” but one day we will live with God with all the redeemed. Philippians 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
For us, the default setting will not change until we get to Heaven, but that day is certain. Brien with an “e” will no longer have a line under it.