Moments of Joy by William Klein

It’s that time of year where things are getting testy.  Students see the end of the year. Seniors are checking out due to the dastardly symptoms of “senioritis” and faculty continues to swim upstream as we try to plan engaging lessons and look for glimpses of life that genuine learning is happening in the classroom. No lie, I actually had to break up a fight between two students over who’s quieter during prayer. It wasn’t pretty.

During our team meetings we have what are called “moments of joy.”  We dig deep to find those moments where students have discovered something in our lessons and call that out to remind ourselves that real learning is going on. When teachers hit a wall, it’s hard to find those moments, but they are there. There have been a few times where the crickets were pretty loud, and we had to change it up and retitle our “moments of joy” time to “what do you look forward to this next break?”

It’s no fault of their own. Students are ready for a break. Most of my students work extra jobs to help out at home. They spend a full day at school and then go home and work. Some are up late babysitting for brothers or sisters who had to work. Some are helping with parents or grandparents who are debilitated due to medical problems. With the recent shortage of workers, employers are extending shifts. This leads to feistiness in the classrooms. It leads to wily behavior to let out and frustrating fits of uneasiness. It’s human.

Even our sports teams suffer as a result of students having to go to work. My friend helps the team, and she has doozy stories. We were short one player and one of the students who is on the baseball team was hoping to go to the open gym for basketball instead of going to the baseball game. The teacher made sure he was on the bus for the game.

One understands why he wasn’t excited about playing when you see how bad our team is.  We haven’t won a game yet, and we celebrated a small victory when we eventually scored a run. In fairness to our team, games have been cancelled due to inclement weather. The other day we played one of the better teams in the city. There is no “mercy rule” in these games. The other team seemed to be playing with a softball while were swinging at pebbles being beaned at 110 miles per hour.

The score was 17 – 0 in the 3rd inning. We brought in our reliever for the day from right field. The other team demonstrated mercy by striking out as much as they could to end the game. This wasn’t obvious to our center fielder who called out, “My boy is pitching a no-hitter.”

As my friend wisely pointed out, first of all, he wasn’t.  Secondly, the unwritten and informal rules of the game specify “if a pitcher is pitching a no-hitter, never let him know. It gets in the player’s head.” Not our heads. Thirdly, he looked foolish cheering for a guy when there was no way we would get back in it. Small victories are victories nonetheless.

While other teams look like a well-oiled machine with all parts moving when the ball is hit. Our team is sleeping on its feet, day dreaming and looking in the stands to see who is there or not. Some are thinking, I wonder if that teacher was serious when he said, “If you don’t turn it in you won’t get any points.” 

Our new coach had covid symptoms, so he couldn’t go to the game. The players didn’t know that he was coaching from his car. Like a manager who was thrown out of a game, he was coaching from the clubhouse while my friend who usually keeps the stats tried to navigate with the help of fellow teachers she recruited.

I imagine the texts aren’t pretty. It’s basic baseball analysis:

“Runner should be running with two outs.”

“Tell that kid to move when the ball is hit.”

“Tell him to watch to see if the other players are moving when the bases are loaded and to get back if there’s a pass ball and no runners can advance.” 

“Please tell them to protect the plate with two strikes.” 

“Tell that kid to stop picking daisies in the outfield.”

“Did I just see one of our players eating ice cream on the field?”

“Tell that kid to look alive – move so we know he has a pulse – something, anything. Tell him to indicate that he can still hear us.”

There are moments of joy listening to my frustrated friend share the stories. As I think about my own classroom, it opens me up. The fight between the two students about who was quieter, showed me they cared about being quiet and actually respected the process. They respected that I cared for quiet to help others pray and give them a moment of peace.

The fact that my students are working to make money for their families shows an earnest desire to pitch in and help. The fact that the student who wanted to stay with and play at the open gym but showed up for his brothers meant something. It took some prodding, but he did it.

The fact that our seniors have senioritis demonstrates that they engaged enough and cared enough to hit a wall. Something is happening here. Moments of joy coupled with frustrating scenarios present life as we know it. Not always pleasant, but signs of light and joyful experiences in the shadows of adversity. 

One of my toughest students — a student I thought was too hard to ever care about theology — wrote a note that said, “God bless” on it. Progress. That same teacher who helps out with the baseball teams collected notes for “Teacher Appreciation Week” and gave me a handful of notes that demonstrated that my students are seeing the little things I do for them and taking notes on how much I really care.

There are moments of joy that keep me going. I’ve been infused with the grace of humor to see that there is more here than meets the eye. Every unstable, unbalanced at bat is stepping up to the plate. We’re still in the game and there are laughable moments of whimsy to savor.

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