I just wanted them to do what I’d asked of them.
But week after week, about half the middle-school kids in my home school writing group would show up without their writing work done. Since my class plans depended heavily on having each of them share their writing with the group so we could discuss it, this pattern was putting a huge crimp in my ability to actually teach them anything. Though my improv skills grew as a result of the ongoing need to come up with Plan B when some or most of them failed to do what I’d asked, I knew I couldn’t keep juggling running chain saws each week to fill our class time.
Plus, I really did want to teach them something.
The usual explanation from the kids who hadn’t done the assignment? “I had to write something for Mrs. Stewart’s class, so I didn’t have time to do anything for your class.” (And there was, predictably, a kid whose poodle or computer seemed to have a need to dine on their work.) My biggest competition for my students’ writing time was Mrs. Stewart, however. She taught theater and literature courses to homeschoolers, and she charged for her classes. In fact, she charged beaucoup bucks for those classes.
Parents who’d signed their kids up for her classes would sign their kids up for my group and tell me their child needed my writing instruction in order to learn how to do the assignments for Mrs. Stewart, since she wasn’t a writer and I was. They would also tell me that since they were paying beaucoup bucks to Mrs. Stewart, and my classes were free, they were being good stewards of their money by having their kids do the work for Mrs. Stewart’s class.
As you might imagine, this was maddening on a couple of different levels. I’d started teaching these classes because (A) I loved sharing what God had taught me about the writing process – I simply wanted to minister to others (B) I welcomed the opportunity to give my own kids places to connect with other homeschool kids (C) The classes provided a necessary service to parents who weren’t comfortable with their own writing skills (D) I was learning new things about writing from those kids, even the ones who didn’t always do their assignments.
But they weren’t learning what I knew they could from me if they didn’t do what I’d asked them to do.
I tried approaching Mrs. Stewart to see if she might be interested in teaming up somehow, but she had a comfy gig going, and there wasn’t a space for me there. I kept having parents tell me that if I charged for my writing groups, their kids would do the homework I’d assigned to them. I battled doing so for over a year. I wanted to help people, not run a business.
Eventually, I realized that the best way to help people was to charge for my services, rather than giving them away. (I tried to be sensitive – there were a few families who were experiencing financial challenges, and I lowered or waived my fees for them.)
Guess what? The same kids who didn’t do the assignments when my groups didn’t cost money began turning in work when I started charging. Then, I had families I’d never heard of calling and asking to sign their kids up for the classes.
(It’s been well over a decade since I made the decision. I still work with home school kids through occasional workshops for support groups, and via my on-line tutorial service.)
I realize I am no different than those families – I assign value based on a price tag. This thinking runs mighty deep in me, as deep as sin. As I read the gospels, I see a different economy, a different way to assign value to both things and people. I see a God who was willing to pay everything for people who don’t value Him, and it changed everything. Shattered our addiction to the value system of the world.
If only we have hearing eyes, seeing ears, and a heart willing to surrender, to live His kingdom-revolution.
In too many areas in my life, this is uncharted territory.