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My Reflections on 2016 in the Classroom: Foolish. Funny.

January 1, 2017


I was in a pie-eating contest last month.  Seriously.

I took on the students in an all-school pie eating contest at a student assembly here at Grace Christian Academy.  Five of us stood before a long table in the middle of the gymnasium, hands behind our backs, looking down at a full pie apiece.  To my right were the junior and senior representatives.  To my left were the freshman and sophomore representatives.  These were all teens.  I am fifty-seven years old.  They have youth and an incredible metabolic rate going for them.

But I have one thing they don’t have.

I am obsessed with pie.

They are young.  They have not reached this type of fascination.

I looked at both sides as I took off my glasses, flipped a baseball cap backwards on my head and stared down at the fresh pumpkin pie in front of me.  “You know I’m going to destroy you all, don’t you?”

And that’s what I did, brother.

I destroyed them.  I destroyed that pie, too.

There was just one little hitch I hadn’t planned on, and it quickly became a problem for me.  For those of you who have not indulged in a pie eating contest, allow me to explain the dilemma anyone would encounter in a contest like this.  When you eat pie like civilized people do, you use a utensil to bring it to your mouth.  Obviously, you don’t slam your face down into the middle of your dessert.  There are many good reasons for this, but one of the main things is that you’ll encounter an obstacle that slows down your eating speed.  It’s called your nose.  More specifically, your nostrils.

I’d like you to thoughtfully consider the angle of attack when you push your face into a pie, especially one with the consistency of a pumpkin pie.  Your face goes forward and down, and the pie can do nothing to escape.  But as you push forward, you have these two open-access entrances into your sinuses.  Consider them tunnels if you will, and when you push into something like a pie, the pie wants to enter into those dual little roadways into your face.

With the nose I have, it was like opening up L.A. traffic into a four lane freeway.

As I plowed down into the pie, I realized that part of the food was travelling up my schnozz at an alarmingly fast pace.  I felt a cool yet choking sensation moving toward my eye sockets.  Also, I couldn’t breathe.

But being the cantankerous sort and especially defiant of losing to students little more than one-third my age, I knew I couldn’t quit.  This created a dilemma, because I really do like to breathe.  So I leaned to one side in front of all of those students – if you are delicate, please skip these next few sentences – and I honked out as much of it as I could.  Yes, I blew my nose out, pumpkin and all.

Now, this got a strong reaction from the cheering audience, but I must admit, it wasn’t the sole reason, for at the very same time, the senior student Bethany leaned over to her right and barfed up all of her pumpkin on the gym floor.

(Oh, yes, we Christians are the delicate sort, aren’t we?)

But as soon as I cleared my nasal passageway, I was able to dive right back in.  And, my good friends, that’s the way I decided I could win this challenge, and so I got into a rhythm of eating and blowing, eating and blowing.  I won the contest.

Yes.  The old man won.

Only one small problem as they announced me as the winner.   I couldn’t breathe, because in my gustatorial fervor in the home stretch, I was chawing into the pie at a manic pace, with my nostril expulsion not able to keep up with my hyperactive intake.

As I worked my way off of the gymnasium floor (I had pie in my eyes, and neither was I wearing my glasses, so my exit was a challenge in itself), our math teacher Rachel approached me with a towel.  I could tell my face was a mess by her reaction.  “Here – this will help,” she said kindly.

“I can’t breathe,” I said.  In reality, though, since my sinuses were clogged, it came out like “uh kint breed.”  She nodded sweetly and gestured towards the school bathrooms.  “Perhaps you can clean up in there.”

I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, amazed at how much pumpkin I can actually hang on my face – especially the eyebrows! – and I went through half a dozen industrial-strength paper towels as I tried to clear my sinuses.  This helped a bit, but the coarse texture of the paper towels left me with half a nose.  I was not able to completely clean my nasal passage, either – my sinuses were clogged, making my eyes water for the rest of the day.  And I kid you not, I smelled nutmeg for about forty-eight more hours.

Within the month I was back on the gym floor at another school assembly, side by side with other teachers and coaches as we took on the students in a Dodge Ball game.  Shoulder to shoulder with Scott the algebra teacher and Lincoln the strength coach, I did fierce battle in my socks, skating across the floor while winging playground balls with an arm that hasn’t played organized baseball in over two decades.  I held on through the final stages, but C.J. caught my blazing missile with relative ease.  At least I didn’t get hit.

This is fun stuff, brother.


The word “fun” can be traced to the late Middle English word fon “make a fool of, be a fool”.  But if you go back a bit more into the word’s history, you see it also meant “to become infatuated with,” from where we get the word fond.

Both those words connect with my past year here at Grace Christian Academy.  There are times when I played the fool, but it only served to build a deepening fondness for my students.  Make no mistake, we worked at our studies.  Did we hit the books hard?  Of course.  From soteriology to ouranology, we looked at the doctrines surrounding the Trinity.  We researched the ministry of Christ and studied His amazing attributes.  We gave speeches on subjects as diverse as Koine Greek phrases and the Ten Commandments.  It got hard sometimes, even anxious.

But oh, did we have some fun classroom moments this past semester.

We had distraction speeches.  While the speaker gave his delivery, we tried interruptions ranging from a stray dog running through the room to an ROTC officer doing push-ups.  Our speakers held their ground, directing and controlling the mishap.  Then after the grade was given, we would all laugh.

We had classroom competitions.  Each class time ended with a game where points could be earned.  This was a six-class competition, complete with revenges and intrigue.  The top three winners got to participate in a Christmas auction with their points used as currency.  The auction items were donated over the course of the month.  Students won TVs, stuffed animals, boxes of candy, board games, DVDs… you name it, we probably had it.

We had daily coffee and doughnuts in the classroom.  Students would donate their loose change on a honor basis, and we would have enough to cover the expense of coffee and some baked goods – a nice way to start the class time, especially before a quiz on the Koine Greek translation of John 1:1.

We also have some fond memories as well.  Adam shared his desire to go into full-time Christian mission work.  Jared told me about how he used his speech training to be able to give a message before his church.  Benji’s dad came in and sat in on a class to observe.  So did Brooke’s mom.  We had a dress-up day to sit and watch a film of Handel’s Messiah, as if we were in the concert hall itself.  Students were peppering me with questions about Christ during our weekly Q & A time on Fridays.

We would stop class and have a “quiet time” of simply reading the Scripture as individuals – anywhere you wanted to read in the Bible, you had the silence in order to do it.  It restored the joy of getting to know the Bible once again.  I can recall how Bob sat there, intensely reading the book of Luke while noisily crunching kettle-cooked potato chips.  He was unaware of how loud he was.  The other students smiled and ignored it as best they could.  Classes were opening up to seeing Jesus as more than a cliché; they were starting to understand and enjoy the Messiah.

I could continue to list the grand memories, but I’ll stop for now.

What has 2016 reminded me?  Simple.

The joy of the Lord is your strength. That powerful phrase is found in Nehemiah 8:10, and boy, does that ring true to me.  Being part of the Kingdom ministry is an honor.  It’s a blessing.





Happy New Year!  2017 has more joys in store. I’ll try to remember to write about them as they happen.







Brad Zockoll
Dr. Brad Zockoll

Copyright 2017

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