Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Substitute Teaching - Beyond the Surface

His right hand and wrist were in a black brace to try to reduce the trembling. His left thumb was bleeding from torn skin alongside the nail. The noise of the class made it hard for him to concentrate and his paper was blank except for his name that was written in pencil in the upper left corner. He startles easily and I spend some extra time with him as we work together through the worksheet. 

I think it was the look in his eyes that captured my attention. They were so blue, so clear, and they looked so alone. What happens in a life that leads us to isolation?

More often than not, there is more than we can see. Each person has a story to tell. There is tremendous worth when we take the time to look.

The clock tower of St. John Church visible from a converted storage closet.

Caught up in the boon of the roaring twenties, Stephen Vail School was opened in Middletown, Ohio in 1923. Boasting study halls with ceilings that soared over fifteen feet high, marble walls and floors, silver and gold trimmed lobbies, an indoor running track, oak paneled executive offices complete with a fireplace, silk tapestries, Tiffany chandeliers, and a 1300 seat auditorium with black leather chairs, the school was among the best in the nation, and was a prototype for aspiring schools around the world. 

One of two large study halls, impressive in scale and detail.

The day I received my license to substitute teach in Ohio, I knew that I wanted a chance to get inside this historical landmark and treasure from the past. What saddens me is that the locals don't view this majestic school through the lens of its wonder, but it is seen as just another building in decay on the wrong side of the tracks. 

Built in 1923 with projection capability and a building-wide air flow system.

So often we freely abandon the most beautiful pieces of our lives because they just become common place. Residents here have driven past this school for decades and they miss the treasure that stands like a monument in their midst, representing the better parts of us all. 

I opened an old, wooden door that I thought led to a janitor's closet,
to find an abandoned planetarium inside.

Streets that once bore witness to patent leather, silver buckled boots, top-hats, and the light step of men and women who found happiness in this place, have now given way to disrepair, down-cast faces, and the scourge of epidemic drug abuse. It's Christmastime here in Middletown, but this place is like George Bailey's dark alternate universe. It's like hope jumped from the bridge long ago and now the streets only carry the traffic of the bleak.

The outer dome of the planetarium.

Many here only see the darkness, the dust, and the brokenness. But, the scale is still vast, the floors and walls are still solid marble, and the spirit of those who built this architectural declaration of the human spirit in an era that saw the Model T Ford, the first radio station, the birth of Jazz, and women's right to vote still speaks to us if we'll only listen. 

Illustrations & notes from my 6th Bell Teaching Session.

My day spent in this building yielded deeper treasure still. The students who gather here now are descendants from those who walked these halls nearly one hundred years ago. Their stories are not yet fully written. It remains to be seen if they embrace the darkness that is easily seen, or if they might dig deep to find the treasure that is here.

Today we discussed some ideals that span across the decades: a love of our founding documents, the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, a deep respect and appreciation for law enforcement, and what it means to be a responsible and accountable human being, daring to reach out, dream big, and take a risk for a better life.

For me, it is my faith that inspires these conversations. I was able to share with the students bits of our families' experiences like adoption and mission. The inevitable questions of "Why" always follow, and that allows me to share the story of Christ in places where the ground is fertile.

For me anyway, the day was all that I hoped it could be... as I glimpsed the glory of a city in her prime, embraced the pain of the day, and made a small effort to love the people who exist in the convergence of times in that space.

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