In Religion class, every once in a while, we finish everything planned for that day before time to dismiss. Five or maybe ten minutes remaining might seem like a teacher’s anxiety dream, or at least an annoyance. Not to me! I simply love it when this happens! It’s one of my very favorite times with my classes. It is like a gift of grace, a little like when someone cancels a meeting with you at the last minute and you suddenly have an unscheduled hour. Well, sort of like that but for five or so minutes and with a bunch of middle schoolers.
If it’s such a good experience, why not plan for it, right? Well, I have and, for me, planning these bits of time simply takes all the joy away. Plus, I do become a clock-hound, pushing to be sure we have our five minutes at the end. The ease of the sudden gift of extra time is lost.
So, I just let it happen; and when we are surprised by this blessing of extra minutes, we play what I call “the Question Game.” I think up a question, pose it, and then the students answer it in the order in which they are seated. Sometimes the questions are pure fun, like “What is your favorite breakfast food?” Other times, it’s seasonal: “What is your favorite dish that your family has over the Thanksgiving holidays?” We honor and celebrate different traditions and cultures, and I encourage the students to appreciate each other’s varying responses. Of course, some students try to be cute, get a laugh, or be silly, but usually that doesn’t last long and is self-correcting. I find that with middle schoolers, unless a remark is totally out of line, the less attention given to it, the better.
This past week, in one of my classes, we had the gift of time for the Question Game. The question that popped in my head was “What is something really important to you that you are thankful for?” These are middle schoolers, so I was expecting a few deeply thoughtful, moving answers but also a lot of responses about video games, cell phones, Justin Bieber or the latest heartthrob. Instead, all the answers, every last one of them, were heartfelt and genuine. Maybe it was the way I worded the question; or perhaps, the climate of our country at the present, or the mood set by the person who gave the first answer. What these students are thankful for ranged from “my friends and family,” to “my grandfather who takes me fishing,” to “this school and the good education I’m privileged to be getting here,” to “my friends I get to play soccer with,” to “my church,” to “my little brother but you better not tell him that I said so! “ These answers show the very reason I love these little moments so much. In five minutes, so much can happen with a class. I can labor for fifty-five minutes to teach Bible, Church History, liturgy, and more using a variety of formats and media, but in five minutes, we lived it. We became a community: trusting one another, opening our hearts; respecting and honoring each other. For me, it was a holy moment. I love it when those happen.