“You can’t mark my exam wrong, Miss,” said my student. “I put ‘Jesus’ for the answer, and as you know, Jesus is always the answer.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to say. Except for one thing–the kid didn’t know my religion. What if I were an atheist? Jesus wouldn’t be the answer at all. Or if I were Hindu? Nice try.
That’s not the first time Jesus has been asked to fix an impossible situation in my classroom.
There is what I call “Jesus math.” That’s when the good Lord himself couldn’t float into my classroom and change the numbers enough to earn a kid a 70.
One day, a student asked if he’d get an A in my class. I said a better short-term goal would be putting in enough effort to pass at all. Since we’d had this conversation more than once and no work had been liberated from his pen, I reexplained the situation.
“Let me make this clear,” I said. “The only way you’ll get an A in my class is if the Lord Jesus Christ floats down from a cloud and commands me to give you one. And even then, I’ll probably argue, so it’d be easier for him to change the grade himself.”
The next day Lord floated into class. Himself. Complete with sandals, a crown of thorns clipped from a school rosebush, and a robe which looked remarkably like a tablecloth removed from our culinary department.
“Casey, give my child an A.” I wasn’t convinced. There are a lot of imposters in the God department. When I lived in Moscow, there was a lady who was the reincarnation of Jesus. The Russian government disagreed, indicting her for tax fraud, if there is such a thing as fraud in Russia.
I would never indict Jesus for tax fraud–what if he made a call upstairs to his dad who wiped out the earth? It wouldn’t be too big an effort given global warming these days–just a slight breath from above, and we’re doomed. Besides, a lot of people passed on the Lord the first time around. You don’t want to miss the winning bet twice.
I decided to employ a test. You might think it unwise to test the Lord–he’s turned women into piles of salt for less, but I had to know the truth.
“Turn this water into wine,” I said, extending my Nalgene bottle. If it really was the Lord, I’d have a good lunch. He passed back the bottle. I took a sip. Water! If he ever tried to pull that at a wedding, no one’d invite him again.
And so I kicked out the fake Lord and made that boy earn every single point to get to the sixty-five that was then a passing grade. I was too new to know teachers had any discretion–that we could give a point, round up, or substitute one assignment for another. I was a second-career person from Corporate America, where only the boss gets to fudge the numbers. I was an absolutist.
I’m flexible now, it’s education that’s not as much. I got a compliment from a kid this year. “Miss, I like you. It’s not because you’re not strict or mean, though that’s good, I like you because you know your stuff and you’re always trying to help us for real with things that matter in life–stuff I can use.” Another said class was “life-changing.” “To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to like (this economics) class, but you taught me how to build businesses…it’s been life-changing.”
Those are the best compliments I could ever get from students, especially as I approach another evaluation cycle where I’ll be at my wits end about the career in general. I’ve been teaching fifteen years now. When I started teaching, I thought I’d change the world. I’m not so sure I did or that I could even start given the politics today. But if I help a couple kids live a life where they get up happy and follow their passions, it’s time well spent.
I’ll be releasing a collection of stories on Tuesday, August 4. It’s called “Don’t Sniff the Glue, a Teacher’s Misadventure in Education Reform.” Teaching isn’t what I thought it’d be at all. It’s more of everything–funnier, harder, more emotionally draining, and more expensive than I imagined. But so far, I’ve survived. I hope a few kids have been all the better for it, and anyone I’ve annoyed on my quest to make it perfect will forgive me. I’ve probably been pretty annoying.
This book is long overdue, and thanks to the help and encouragement of friends and bestselling authors Kamal Ravikant, Claudia Altucher, and James Altucher award-winning designer Erin Tyler, and photographer and super-covermodel Jodi Swanson, I’m finally pushing the button. I hope you enjoy it.
I also hope you read and love Kamal, Claudia, and James’ books on Amazon. I lost a lot of money Kindling them to students this year–the least likely candidates for reading professional leadership, inspiration, and finance books–but they devoured them, applied the lessons, and asked for more–and thanked me for leaving the dust on the textbooks.
Erin created not only my book cover but the cover for nearly every book worth reading except for Shakespeare (although mine is my favorite) so you’ve seen her before. Jodi is the photographer for the often forgotten but inwardly strong. She has captured everything from families in neonatal ICU and cancer wards, Burning Man, and the ordinary triumphs of as many Women of Strength as she can find. If you haven’t seen her already, you will soon.
Photo Credit: Buddy Christ, by David Clow