26 September 2010

The Our Father: when a Teacher turned "Murderous" in the Middle of a Religion Class


Classroom management, young teachers find out soon enough, is all about establishing at the soonest possible time within a classroom who the boss is. In this context, the soonest possible time will probably have to be right on the very first day of school. This is when the “little devils” are adjusting to a new environment; probably some new classmates. This is also when they size up a new teacher as either fodder for year-long mischief or a no-can-do.

The thinking is simple. A teacher can be the best source of content; but if nobody is listening, what is the point?

Some new teachers, fresh out of college, stand in front of a high school class for the first time and say something like, “Hey, I’m not much older than you are. You can all call me by my first name.” Big mistake! Inside a class, a teacher has to be in charge; and that often means not being thought of as a peer. With that sort of approach, a young teacher is bound to be eaten up alive!

Rapport has to be established; but ditto control. Without the latter, a teacher is held hostage for a school year of misery.

Back when I was in senior high school in the mid-seventies, we used to have a male Religion teacher who was the most kindred soul. He wore thick-rimmed spectacles; spoke in a soft voice; and wore a seemingly perpetual smile on his face.

It’s a crying shame; but the truth of the matter is that, in a Catholic school, Religion just happens to be one of those courses a student expects to breeze through. No disrespect to Religion teachers; but that is just the way it is. The course I taught, Social Science, is in the same category. As a matter of course, students just simply prioritize Mathematics and the Sciences.

It was no different during my time. During Religion, one kept an ear half-cocked to what was being said while one hurriedly did homework for the next subjects that one failed to do the previous night probably in favor of watching TV.


Now, back to this kindly Religion teacher we had during my senior year in high school. We all thought he could not hurt a fly. Unfortunately, when he was inside the classroom, his course became what students of my teaching years simply referred to as “vacant” – i.e. time to do homework, play pranks on one another or simply gossip with the guys in the seats close by.

The teacher was a novice – and never quite established the sort of control that would have made his life inside the classroom so much easier. It is hard enough to establish control in a coeducational class; but we were still in an era when boys were segregated from the girls. It must have been doubly hard for him!

There was this one time when the teacher, probably tired of the incessant noise he had to put with during each and every one of his class, decided to hold a prayer service instead of the usual lessons. The course being Religion, most of us brought out our notebooks to finish the Trigonometry and Physics assignments that were due for submission later in the day.

That was well and good and the teacher – for once – could enjoy some peace and quiet while he wrote the prayer service on the blackboard. At the lower right hand corner of the blackboard, the teacher scribbled with his chalk as the ending to the prayer service the words OUR FATHER.

By the time the teacher had finished writing the service, the noise levels had built up perceptibly. I do not exactly recall why – the homework we were all trying to finish must have required communal consultation.

So, the teacher faced the class and the prayer service began. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…

Most of us were doing our homework, but being right proper Catholics, we crossed ourselves nonetheless. And promptly went back to the homework once done…

As the prayer service went on, only those who were in the front seats were making any pretense at participating. Even then, a few of them had their own notebooks opened and alternated between reading the responses on the board and writing homework on their notebooks.


Finally, the service was about to conclude. “Class,” I half-heard the Religion teacher say, “let us all sing the Ama Namin…”

Those in the front seats dutifully started singing, “Ama namin, sumasalangit ka, sambahin ang ngalan mo…” I do not recall exactly how it started, and if there was malice involved, but those in the back row instead started singing the English version as indicated on the blackboard, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name…” This was the upbeat version sung at the time in stark contrast to the somber tones of the Tagalog version.

Most of those at the back were still bowed over their notebooks and were only singing mechanically, but I happened to see the teacher become livid, his face suddenly turning from its normally saintly look to something close to manic, even demonic. Without warning, he hurled the booklet he was holding across the room and with both feet hurled himself up into the air ala Spiderman.

When he landed, he slammed both his palms with all his might on the desk of one of my classmates.  This classmate still recalls that slamming to this very day.  The noise of his palms slamming hard on the desk stunned everyone into silence! With his eyes still maniacal, the teacher waved a pointing finger across the room and in totally uncontrolled rage shouted at all of us, “If it were not a sin to kill, I will murder all of you right now!!!”

That was a Religion teacher, mind… Everyone had, by that time, dutifully closed his notebook as the occasion demanded and sat upright with hands folded neatly on the desk. The picture of total innocence…

Before long, the teacher regained his composure. Being a Religion teacher, he was – naturally – constrained by the course he was teaching from raging any further. In fairness to him, he tried to get to the bottom of things. Some of my classmates pointed out that it was the OUR FATHER scribbled on the blackboard that caused all the confusion.

But that was really utter bull… Hardly anyone was paying any attention. To get back to the point of this story, at the end of the day, better the teacher who makes sure there is no fooling around because that way, you get your money’s worth. And nobody gets murdered along the way…

*****

To help everyone visualize what went on, half the class was singing this solemn version:



...while the other half sang this upbeat version:



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