When I began teaching, I thought long and hard about what I would do for my morning prayer. A rote prayer that we say every day becomes more of a mindless routine than a time for reflection, and I remembered the way that my fellow classmates and I used to zone out during the daily foray into the big reflections binder that was in most of the classes. I wanted to make it meaningful, and non-alienating for the non-religious students in my classroom.
I tried a number of things, like showing short videos and having discussions or discussing a something in current events every day and spending time together reflecting upon it. However, I didn’t find that students really engaged. Recently, I have been reading excerpts from The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha, and then praying in thanks together with my class for all the things we have been given. When students come into the room in the morning, I allow them to choose the reading for the day. Students have been enjoying it, and I find that they really are listening and paying attention during the reading. This is because this book is funny and wholly positive. I like how optimistic the book is, and how it allows us to start every day by thinking about how lucky we are to have some of these small things in our lives. All students, no matter their religion, can relate to this and spend a few moments every day being grateful for all that God has given us.
Here is an excerpt from the book that we can all relate to:
The Last Day of School
My friend Jason had a tradition.
Every year on the last day of school he’d stop on the bridge over the creek on his walk home, pop open all his three-hole binders, and dump and shake all his pen-scrawled notes and sticker-covered tests into the bubbling rapids below. Somehow the sight of the sheets soaking up and smearing the ink and then drowning and drifting away gave him the therapeutic closure he needed before summer officially began.
Although we didn’t all celebrate by polluting local waterways, the day always had so much meaning.
I don’t know about you but our school board didn’t spring for air-conditioning, figuring we could make it through a few hot weeks before summer break. So as the cold winter thawed into muggy summer days, the heat just sank and stank, despite pleading windows propped open with dog-eared textbooks and plastic yellow rulers.
As that last day approached, a certain smell drifted from all the backpacks, lockers, and gym closets, too. It was a musty combination of dodgeball rubber, cheap floor polish, and acne medication, complemented by a fine sprinkling of locker mold.
But that heat sure did bring some excitement, too.
Calendar days flipped by and teachers taught with a little more pep, homework assignments got lighter, and projects deadlines came and went. Tank tops came out as flip-flops clip-clopped up and down the hallway — with everybody locking eyes, smiling big smiles, and waiting patiently for that beautiful last day to finally come.
And then one day … it did.
And it sure whipped by in a whirlwind.
Maybe your teacher brought a batch of homemade brownies in a heavy glass tray and everybody sliced a square with a plastic knife while passing around yearbooks and watching a movie with no educational value whatsoever.
Maybe you wrote exams early so half the class skipped while the rest come for board games, Students vs. Teachers baseball, or just to collect report cards.
Maybe you were graduating and spent the afternoon kicking pebbles in the parking lot while chatting about all the moments you were going to miss as you moved on. There was your first cigarette, The Tuba Incident, and the hallway drama of prom season.
Making plans for pool parties, summer birthdays, and sleeping in every morning gives you a great rush and as you walk home with that pen-scratched yearbook in your light and baggy backpack, you curl your lips into a tight smile and stare way off into the distances… thinking tall thoughts … and dreaming big dreams … to fill those beautifully wide open spaces.
I will continue to explore new ways to pray with my students, but I am happy with how this is working so far.