We had a fire drill this morning, and I knew it was coming — we always know, for the administration sends us emails about them — and yet it wasn’t the disruption of the actual fire drill that I was dreading. I knew it would, of course, break up the flow of a lesson, and it never fails that the class with a high number of Terrences and Teresas is going exceptionally well when a fire drill occurs. There is that to consider. But what I was more concerned about was what would happen when we came back in, because I knew you and most of your classmates would be worried about one thing: your shoes.
I could hear it before we got back to the classroom, thirty-some kids all asking to go to the bathroom to clean the wet grass clippings from their shoes. Instead, I handed out paper towels. I heard a lot of thanks, but it still ate up a lot of class time.
It was a judgement call, really. I could have simply told everyone to get over it, but I thought I might use the situation to win some points with you guys. Besides, when I heard you say, “Man, my mom paid $140 for these shoes,” I knew that it wouldn’t just blow over. You would spend all your time trying to wipe the grass from your shoes, and you’d likely mutter your displeasure at having to do so, and that would only drag your neighbors into the frustration, and soon the whole class would follow. So the paper towels were preventative.
Still, I’m concerned about your worries: they’re just shoes. Even if they’re a little dirty, they will come clean when you get home. And even if they don’t come clean, even if there’s a bit of green left on your perfectly white basketball shoes, they’re just that, shoes. They’re material objects, tools, bit of rubber and leather designed to protect your feet.
Or are they?
Of course that’s not all they are. To suggest that is to be naive, I understand that perfectly. They represent status. They represent some kind of success. And thus they represent respect to you, which I suppose adds to your sense of self-worth. And that, for me, is the real tragedy. You talk constantly in class. You’ve been to alternative school. You’re wearing a home-arrest ankle bracelet (that began chirping the first day of school, I might add). And yet what you’re most worried about is whether or not your expensive shoes are clean.
Don’t you see your shoes are meaningless? Don’t you understand your self-worth comes from being a child of God, created in God’s image, destined for so much more than hunkering over your over-priced shoes, frantically scrubbing them? Can’t you understand that it’s your heart, your soul, that you need to be worried about? Don’t you worry what path you’re on, what that heart of yours might look like? From here, it looks good. Not perfect, but good. But it’s kind of like your shoes: eventually, it can get so dirty that it’s all but impossible to clean but through grace.
Your Dirty-Shoed Teacher