Heavenly Language

Neil Anderson, Head of School

Heading a school is fun, but I really love teaching. Dr. Lindsey Scholl and I dreamt up a creative writing course last year and I began to carve out a little section at the end of the day to teach it with her. She took the short story part of the job and I took poetry. Man, I love poetry. Don’t fear, this is not going to turn into another rant on the power of poetry. The reason I bring up the class is because something interesting and unexpected happened at the end of the first one and every class since.

That first class, I pulled out all the tricks to begin to prick the poetic imagination. I made them laugh–I made them cry. And then something beautiful happened. After closing in prayer, they stood to depart and offered up a chorus of “thank you.” Almost every one of them looked at me and said, “Thank you, Mr. Anderson.” Now… I must confess that in my pride, my first assumption was that I must have just nailed it. They were grateful for the level of teaching expertise they had just experienced to the degree that they felt compelled to transcend their natural teenage ingratitude as a response to a great class. To test this theory, I proceeded to teach a succession of less than inspiring poetry classes, yet they continued to say “thank you” every time.

If you have been around TCS for long, you know we believe in the power of liturgical habits.  It delights my heart to be in earshot of Dr. Williams’ class at the end of the day to hear them close in doxology or the Herbert Prayer, or to see Ms. Pfannenschmidt fist-bumping the peace of Christ to each student as they leave the room. I know that teachers are investing towards habits of healthy formation, but I don’t believe anyone has told them to say “thank you” after each class. I think this one grew on its own. Students are choosing to recognize the efforts of their teacher and they are participating in a liturgy of gratitude as they leave class.

A few weeks ago, Dr. Ward stopped by from the other side of the pond. He came to spread his theory that there is an explicit medieval cosmological metaphorical backing to the Narnia Books (I’m sold). We were a little concerned that students would not track, but they did, much in part to Dr. Ward slowing down his precious British accent to half speed. Once again, I witnessed this habit that grew without me knowing it. Students exited in front of Dr. Ward, one at a time, and said, “thank you.”

What’s the big deal? So they have some manners. The big deal is that this sort of behavior represents firstfruits to me. It represents soil fertile for even better things. It represents students with a conscience. It represents students showing virtue that us parents are not showing (when is the last time we made sure to say thank you to our pastor on Sunday before heading to lunch). It represents a collective representation of the one leper. There was one healed leper who came back to Jesus and displayed the most important evidence of healing. He went back to say “thank you” because his heart compelled him to give credit where it is due. The fall is being overcome in him. Gratitude is the language of new creation.

The fruit of discipleship is not always abundantly evident in upper school students. Sometimes we are merely looking for the signs that the Lord has not left the building. And then there are moments that move us. It moves me every time they say “thank you” after class. Every time. It increases the delight in teaching that was already so strong. It makes me want to give more, to love them more. It also reminds me that the movement towards wisdom and virtue might be more subtle than we often think.