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The time I fried my belly on a school outing

March 17, 2014

7I want to tell you about a very painful teaching experience that happened to me many years ago.  I will set up the whole scene: 

“I know it’s a Friday and you want to get home and I know this is a last minute announcement,” said Phil, our principal, “but every tenth-grade teacher needs to cancel their plans and meet in the Bible classroom right after school.  This is the only time Carolyn’s parents can meet before her dad heads out of town on a business trip.”  He looked at our frowns.  “He won’t be coming back for a month, and that’ll be past the grade deadline for the quarter.”

I’ll admit it, I was pretty grumpy.  I wasn’t in a great mood anyway, because of my injury at the field trip the day before.

It was a big event.  We had an all-school outing on an extremely hot and sunny day in a city park, with  picnicking and contests underneath the sunny skies.  Later on after lunchtime while the high schoolers gathered for a softball game on the far field, the elementary children begged me to run around with them among the swings, monkey bars and slides.  It was getting hot – very hot – and as I wiped the sweat from my polo shirt collar I wondered whether I wanted to get into a full all-out romp.  While I wasn’t a big fan of monkey bars, I did see something that caught my eye:  an amazingly tall metal slide with a tunnel built into the top part.  Yes, indeed, this was an intriguing plaything where you would jump onto the slide and be screaming through a tunnel that lasted halfway down the grade.  You would come blasting out of the tunnel into the bright sunshine and slide along the shiny silver into a gradually leveling slope that would gently carry you another twenty or so feet.

“Lookit me! Lookit me!” screamed Penny, jetting down the slide.

“Your turn, teacher!  Go ahead of me!” yelled Bobby.

I enthusiastically leaped onto the slide and entertained the kids with some loud and joyous shouts while in the tunnel.  Even though the temperature was climbing and the metal slide was getting hotter through the afternoon, the tunnel kept at least part of the slide cooler; we just gritted our teeth on the last portion of the ride and hopped off as soon as we could.  We were having a great time when I spied the wax-paper jumbo-size potato chip bag fluttering along the ground.

“Hey, Timmy, watch this,” I yelled as I grabbed the bag and darted for the steps of the slide.  “If you sit on the wax paper, it’ll make you go faster.”  And it did.  I sat on that spread-open makeshift mat and I zoomed through the tunnel like I had a jet pack strapped to my back.

“My turn!  My turn!” yelled Timmy.  The other children lined up and we took turns relaying the wax paper bag to each other.  The sun was getting hotter and so was the slide, but it didn’t bother us.

Then I had my bright idea.  “Hey!  If I dive onto the wax paper, I can look like Superman!” I yelled.  The children cheered.  I waved to them and dove forward.

And missed the wax paper.

Now, normally this would be no big problem, I’d just barrel on down on my belly and glide to the ending slope.  Except that the tunnel only covered half of the slide, and the exposed metal was reaching stove-top-like temperatures.

And when I dove, my polo shirt flopped up so my belly was exposed. Bare skin, brother.

The result was similar to sliding my gut across a heated griddle.

For about twenty feet.

The pain was incredible, and so was the embarrassment.  My stomach – including the navel – was fried beet-red. I do mean a first degree burn.  I rolled off that slide and went into a fetal position for about thirty seconds before I ran about, trying to find relief.  I was in skin-crawling pain as well as mortified by the stupidness of it all.  All the way home as I was driving the school van I was sweating in pain, which made things worse, because the sweat was rolling right into the gigantic red patch on my stomach.  Even an evening slathering of Neosporin didn’t help much.

And so here I was in school the next day, with a gut that felt like Waffle House bacon.  No, I wasn’t in a good mood.

Add this to the fact that the student Carolyn was giving everyone fits.  She had been skipping classes and racking up detentions.  She was the chief editor of the rumor mill, causing scores of hurt feelings.  Her average grade was a ‘D’.  She didn’t care about anything, and all of the teachers were exhausted.

That afternoon, we teachers plopped down wearily in the desks after a hard day.  The parents sat there, glaring at us.

Great, I thought, we’re going to run into an attitude.  These folks are probably thinking that we teachers are at fault.

After the principal gave the introduction, Carolyn’s dad leveled a stare around the room.  “We sent Carolyn to the after-school study hall, so let’s have it out.  Tell us what’s going on in each of your rooms,” he stated flatly.

And so we did.  Our English teacher talked about Carolyn’s tardiness and her flippancy in turning in assignments.

“And what about you?” asked Carolyn’s mother, scowling and nodding to the math teacher.  “What do you have to say?” The math teacher mentioned that Carolyn constantly talked in class and had failed every quiz over the past three weeks.  I mentioned catching her trying to pass notes in class and of her failing grades.  On and on around the room.

To look at their faces, I thought we were going to be in for an argument. And with my grade book full of Carolyn’s failures combined with my seared stomach, I was ready to be as blunt as I needed to be.

“Well, then,” said Carolyn’s dad, looking around at us.  “You say it’s as bad as all that.”

“Yes, sir,” I answered.  “It is.”

“Then,” he said, with a dead-level stare.  “Help us.”

I did a double take.  Did I hear what I thought I heard?

Yes, I did.  I felt a deep pain of guilt, and it went deeper than my belly.  My heart ached for the two of them.

Both of them had a pleading look that broke my heart.  Again, he said it, with an emphasis:  “Help us.”

My defensive posture melted away instantly.  The words of 1 John hit me like a sledgehammer:

If anyone … sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

That’s exactly what happened.  That passage took effect immediately.

The whole room went from a frigid standoff  to a warm and fervent reception.  No more coldness, but compassion.  Within minutes we had organized a plan of tutoring, disciplines and communication.  Carolyn would be the focus of a renewed intensity in personal care and accountability.

And it worked.  Carolyn’s grades slowly rose and her rebellion decreased.  Home and school worked as one.  Carolyn graduated and is a self-sufficient career girl with a blossoming love for Jesus and a close-knit relationship with Mom and Dad.

And I was able to rip away the “classroom only” blinders that day.  I could say that those two words helped me realize the necessity for the Christian school teacher to actively reach into the home whenever possible and assist the parent when needed.  Obsession with student’s grades slackened greatly.  Compassion for the student’s – and parent’s – heart bloomed.

All because of two words.

“Help us.”


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