My special family friend has taught elementary school for over 30 years, most of those years with five year old kindergarteners. Through the years, she has witnessed a changing demographic. Not only are her classes more culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse, but the lifestyles and home lives of her children have experienced a demographic shift as well – not for the better.
Currently, my friend has 14 students in her class. Of the 14 only 2 do not have at least one parent incarcerated. Two of her students are half-sisters, but they don’t know it — Dad impregnated two women at the same time. He’s not been around for either of them. And this dear person has had to call social service agencies any number of times since September because of dangerous information her children have told her.
Lest you think she teaches in an inner-city school, think again. She teaches in a neighborhood school in a suburb of a rather smallish resort city.
One of the challenges this special teacher faces is that few if any of her students have any real concept of right or wrong, socially acceptable behavior, moral truth. They’ve witnessed in five years more than most adults see in a lifetime. Good example? Please. Their solution to problem-solving is to throw things, have a temper tantrum or defecate. They’ve done it all in her classroom.
But, my family friend runs a tight ship. These babies come in spouting four letter words that would curl your hair and leave her class at the end of the school year reading, writing, doing math, and –yep — practicing manners.
It’s a transformation really. And this caring woman digs deep to help it happen. She hugs these babies, rocks them in a rocking chair, tells them how precious they are, rewards them when they follow through, and corrects them (sternly) when they do wrong.
And — she has Jiminy Cricket.
In the public school system, she can’t really talk about her Faith. She can’t mention Jesus, His saving act, or the eternal realities. It’s tough to help form a good conscience when situational ethics and political correctness legally prevail.
But, she can teach them the natural law. And Walt Disney is her aide with his katydid-like insect, Jiminy Cricket. You may recall that Jiminy is Pinocchio’s alter-ego, his conscience. He shows up to inform the marionette of what he should and should not do. When Pinocchio listens to Jiminy, good things happen. And when he doesn’t — well, a heap of trouble follows.
My family friend tells her little ones the story and let’s them know they each have a “Jiminy Cricket”. She tells them their Jiminy is the little voice they hear inside that tells them right from wrong. With repetition, good effort, and reinforcement, they get it. They begin to heed the law God has written on their heart.
Eventually, she tells them Jiminy has another name. “Conscience”. And they need to pay attention to their Conscience. Though the challenges remain, progress begins to happen. And a school year closes with more success than failure.
The kids are boomerangs, though. They move on to first, second, third grade, but they keep coming back to my friend’s classroom. They come for a morning hug, a treat, to hear a kind word, to talk about a problem, to help her set up for the day. They sing out her name in the cafeteria, flock to her after school, blow kisses to her when they see her: all the return of her investment and their good “Jiminy.”
These kids were born with strikes against them. Who knows how their futures will pan out. It will take heroic effort and courage for many of them to make it out of their environments.
But, they have experienced a teacher who has loved them, taken the time to show it, and has given them something for the long haul in addition to reading and math: the foundation for a well-formed conscience. And with that, they have a chance to really grow sturdy and strong.
We need more people like her — and far more “Jiminys” as well.