Beginning band (clarinet), soccer, and Mr. Dole. That’s about all I remember of fifth grade. Mostly Mr. Dole, whom we also called Mr. Banana or Dole Banana – and not necessarily with the respect due our teacher.
Mr. Dole was the teacher who told me I had bad handwriting. He may not have been that blunt about it, but it’s my enduring memory. For more than forty years, I’ve warned people: “I’ve had bad handwriting since 5th grade.” It’s why these days I type even the shortest note if at all possible.
Over the past couple months, I’ve spent several days substitute teaching in fifth grade and I think it may be my favorite grade. Younger kids are little too dependent; older kids are little too independent. Middle schoolers don’t know anything and don’t care; high schoolers know everything already and also don’t care.
Teaching fifth graders is good preparation for leading a church: they’re young enough to still love you just because you’re the teacher; old enough to think for themselves (sort of)—even if their thinking is a little sketchy, or if they choose not to think.
Some church people, like fifth graders, will love you just because you’re the pastor, but some won’t give you the time of day until you’ve shown you love them. Some church people will think for themselves; some want you to do all the thinking, so they don’t have to work too hard.
Fifth graders are very willing to let you know when a classmate isn’t doing the right thing—and what you should do about it. Kind of like some church people. (You’re voting for whom?!? I’m telling the pastor!) Fifth graders want justice (for the other kid) and mercy (for themselves). Kind of like some church people.
Fifth graders can be exhausting or exhilarating. They can be saints or satans, angels or demons.
Kind of like some church people.
Most of all, fifth graders need me to love them, lead them, challenge and encourage them. Kind of like church people.
Father, sometimes I’m like a fifth grader: still learning but too independent and inconsistent; loving but fickle, unfair but merciful. Help me to find in you unending grace, unfailing love, and uplifting correction. Even when my handwriting is bad.