“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?”
Last spring, I contributed a “Teacher Translation Guide” to the yearbook. Mostly satire, it contained phrases that students should never say to a teacher, and the much better questions to ask instead. For example, instead of asking “Did I miss anything yesterday?”–implying the insulting possibility that nothing was missed–a student should ask “What did I miss?”
A recent conversation with fellow faculty reminded me of these un-askable questions, the ones that drive teachers crazy. An art teacher complains that her students come in every day asking, “Do we have to work today?” while a history teacher’s least favorite query is “Do I have to write this down?”
My personal nemesis: “What are we doing today?”
They ask in various tones, from eager to skeptical to jaded, ask as they step into the classroom, a verbal reflex. No matter what I say they’ll stay, and typically their mood won’t change much based on a forecast of an English lesson, but still they ask. Sometimes I answer, and sometimes I beg them to wait four minutes until I can tell all fifteen of them at once what today’s specials will be.
The answer I never give, but the one I want to more often than not, is “Can’t you just trust me that it will be worth knowing, that I won’t waste your time?”
It’s this question that made me laugh aloud when I came to the verse from Isaiah above, in which a clay pot demands to know the end product from the potter shaping it. A novice with ceramics myself, the image of talking clay was enough to amuse me, but the connection to class came just moments after.
How often, though, I’m asking those questions of God, like a student demanding to know the lesson ahead. “What are you making?” I’ll ask through particularly perplexing or troubling times. “Your work has no handles,” I’ll comment when it seems I’m not “turning out” the way that I’d always expected. A pot with an opinion, I tell the potter what’s up.
And, like me to my students, the response so often is, Trust me. I know what I’m doing.
I seldom feel God shaping me as it’s happening, too often content to believe I create myself. And yet as I look back, I realize that He has used each day, each face, each word towards my transformation, if only I allow myself to learn from them, if only I’m listening for His voice.
In a recent literature lesson, a group of students was weighing the relative influence of different American authors, deciding whose legacy was most essential to our history. Someone had just discarded Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder, shrugging off their sentimental novels with unfeeling nonchalance.
“I see what you’re saying,” I commented. “But think of this. Without those writers, I’m not necessarily your teacher. I’m just saying, books are powerful. And those two women wrote some teachers, and those teachers made me want to teach.” Shaped by words, I’m here today.
For the first time in a few years, varying staffing needs here mean I’m entering the next school year uncertain what exact role I’ll play at Black Forest Academy. There are different possibilities, all of them exciting and interesting, if unfamiliar. Sometimes I find myself clinging to specific positions and titles, a pot wishing for handles, or asking for dates and locations, demanding to know the end product. More and more, though, I am learning the beauty of being a silent pot, shaped by the masterful hands of an all-knowing Potter.
So, what are we doing today?
I’ll see, if I keep showing up.