“This is the best celebrity meltdown ever!” I overheard this remark recently while waiting in the lobby of a country club, where I had been invited to a luncheon. The middle-aged man and his wife were seated at a table nearby and laughing over actor Charlie Sheen’s erratic public behavior.
The man’s comment reminded me of a tendency I think we all harbor: taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.
As a high school teacher, I encounter misfortune all day long, including students who have given up on school because they think throwing in the towel is preferable to struggling. Just the other day a student told me “I don’t care if I fail.” Sometimes I don’t know how to respond. This week, I found an answer.
At a faculty meeting, our principal showed us a clip of a video of educational consultant Rick Wormeli called “Redos, Retakes and Do-overs.” In the video, Wormeli talks about how failing students sit in a pit. In the past, teachers have documented their deficiencies in their gradebooks and stood outside those pit, looking down, wagging their fingers and telling students they’d better climb out.
Instead, Wormeli said, we need to climb into the pit with the student and say “I’ve been here before and I’m going to help you get out.” We need to give students the opportunity to retake tests and redo projects and papers. We need, he said, to offer them hope.
This approach to teaching appeals to me on many levels, including spiritual. Can we not climb into one another’s pits and show one another the way out? After all, God did this for us, by sending his only Son to live among us. He suffered, not because He had to, but because He loves us.
Remember when Christ encountered a corrupt tax collector, the man we now know as St. Matthew? He shocked the Pharisees by spending time with him.
- While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
- He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
- Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
That mercy applies to us all, including famous actors and struggling students. As a teacher and as a human being, I am going to strive to climb into my neighbor’s pit and be a presence.
And I am going to do my best to help them climb out.