The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” -Luke 17:6
One of my most favorite songs (I would call it a hymn) of all times is the Lettermen’s “I Believe”. Looking back over my life, there have been two main forces, one that told me “You can’t do that” and the other that said “I’ll bet you can do that”. When I have listened to the voice of confidence, we did great things, things the first voice said were impossible.
I”m reminded of the first time I filled out the semester grades for my students. I completed the course books (report cards) and sent them down to the principal for his review. He later called me into his office and told me: “You can not give all your students A’s, you have to give some B’s, and C’s”. Mind you, I was a new teacher. I didn’t have tenure, and the principal could let me go (a nice way of saying fire me) for any reason in the first few years of my career.
I had kept a grade book and each Friday I would administer a test that I developed based upon the week’s lessons. As the students came into classroom. I would give them their test with the directions that once they finished it, give it back to me and then they could use the rest of the period to read, write or talk quietly with their chosen class mates. (I was a high school English teacher, teaching reading, writing, listening and speaking) All they had to do was hand in the test. As each student would hand in their test and I would mark the items they got right and then give it back to the student encouraging them to see if they could find the right answer(s). Newer students to the class would look at me in disbelief and ask: “But I already put down what I thought was correct—where am I suppose to find the right answer?” I suggested they might want to ask one of their fellow classmates or review the handouts or texts we had used to learn the material. They would look at me, and quickly follow my suggestions maybe having to come back more than once, but eventually getting all the answers on their test marked correctly. An so, when the principal challenged me, I showed him my grade book with each students’ scores and how they earned their A’s.
Many today continue to tell me that’s not the way to teach. My experience, told me and the principal, that it is the way. Not only did my students do well, they did so well, the principal eventually had me running the reading and math programs for the entire school where students who did not like to read were joining the “100 Book Club” whose requirements were to have read 100 books, writing articles for their neighborhood newspapers and applying their math skills in the wood, printing and other shops in our school. What is even more astounding, student who were sent to us because they didn’t like school, were coming everyday and having fun.
God, help my disbelief! Give me the faith, that even though I may be wrong, if I work with all those you put into my life, we will arrive at Your Good News.
Dan O’Donnell is a Passionist Partner and a longtime friend of the Passionists. He lives in Chicago.