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The Teacher in Me

Tabitha Helms

Every week, we go to the Wave Waterpark for summer camp. I'm not usually a water person--meaning I prefer to sit out in the sun and work on my tan rather than immersing myself in cold water, but the weather has been so warm that I've actually hopped in the Lazy River with my 1st grade girls each time. I usually take a while to do that though--getting my sun on for the first half of the day before I'm ready to branch out and cool off. This week, I was sitting pleasantly as you please on a sunny bench, watching my charges play in the shallow end. I was in my swimsuit, hat on, sunglasses on, not yet ready to take on the cold water. Suddenly there was a stream of water aimed in my direction, and I gasped in surprise. Now, the Wave has some pretty cool squirt guns. They look like squished up fabric when they're empty with a pointed tip, and when filled they become a long tube that lets out a steady stream when you put your finger on the clasp to release it. Here's my deal with squirt guns: sure, it's fun to squirt unsuspecting people, but you need to at least make sure they're already wet or in the water. You don't spray someone that's suntanning. That's just rude.

I realize not everyone knows my rule though, so I politely walked over to the two junior high age boys, and asked them if they would please not squirt me again. It's okay to squirt people that are already wet, but if they're not, then they shouldn't do that. I sat back down in my sunny heaven. Five minutes later, guess who got shot with a steady stream of water? Yep, you guessed it. Me. I didn't do anything at first except look in their direction. These clever young men had proceeded to duck in cover behind the ledge of the pool so I wouldn't see them or guess that they had been the culprits. Right, do I look like I'm stupid? I kept staring until they peeked their little eyeballs over the ledge to see if I was looking. We made eye contact; they knew that they weren't fooling anybody. I marched over to them and held out my hand.

"Give it to me." The boy that had the gun started swimming away from me underwater so he couldn't hear my pronouncement. His friend was stationary and answered back, "What?" "Give me the squirt gun." "It's not mine." "Tell your friend to give it to me." "Why?" "Because I asked you not to do it, and you did it anyway, and that was very disrespectful, so you need to give it to me." His friend was halfway across the pool by now, and this kid began swimming backwards to catch up with him and get away from the indignant 5'5" lady with the attitude. I marched around to the other side of the pool where they were, trying to think of a plan of action--some sort of realistic threat I could give them to scare them into not bothering me anymore. I decided to pull the parent card.

"Where are your parents?" "What?" "Where are your parents?" "What parents? We don't have parents." "Well if you're old enough to be here without parents, then you're old enough to be responsible when someone asks you not to do something, you DON'T do it. If it happens again, I WILL have the lifeguard take it away from you. I'm NOT kidding. Am I understood?" Silence. The friend said, "Yes." I glared at the kid with the squirt gun who was treading water in sultry silence. "Am I understood?" "Okay," he mumbled. "AM I UNDERSTOOD?" "Okay!" "Thank you."

I walked back to my bench wondering what had come over me to be so bold like that. If they hadn't done it out of spite, and if I hadn't been at work where I naturally have my teacher hat on, then I wouldn't have said anything. I would have simmered on the inside like I did at my last trip to Disneyland instead of speaking up.

I've been reading a book about be an assertive Christian. There was a little quiz at the end that questioned me about different situations in which my reaction is passive, assertive, or aggressive. For the majority of situations, I behave assertively. However, a close second place was the passive reaction. In public or social settings like the one I was just in, I choose passivity--believing that my feelings aren't important enough to deserve the respect of others. But I don't think that's right. I should respect myself enough to believe that God created me as an important human being. My voice does matter, and I'm only hurting myself by keeping things tucked away inside.

I was saddened to talk to some of my 4th grade girls later as I tread water for my 15 minutes of cardio, arm, and leg exercise. They were asking me what the boys had done to make me call them out.

One of them said, "After you left they said, 'So what? The lifeguard would just give it back anyway.' I told them, 'You should listen to her. She's a teacher.' He said, "So?" and I told him, 'So you should listen to what she tells you.' Then he called me a bad name." "He did??" She paused, hesitant to say it. She cupped her hands around her mouth to whisper to me, "He called me a stupid a**. I think that's a bad name; I don't even know what it means."

I was livid. I was ready to go for round three. NOBODY calls my kids names like that! I tried to take a deep breath while treading water (hard to do) to calm myself. My sweet student told me that she ended the conversation by saying something along the lines of, "Well, you should listen because God cares about you and would want you to do the right thing," and then she swam away.

The hot air inside of me puffed out, and I told her that that was the best response she could've given. After I had originally talked to the boys, I sat on my bench wondering about where the line was between teaching children to be respectful of others and just showing God's love. I think it is loving to instruct someone in doing the right thing. Especially as kids get older, I've become very burdened by the fact that younger kids look up to them and watch their behavior--mimicking them. It's important for them to know how to make good decisions. Many of that aged children just don't seem to care. They come with their attitudes and their disrespect and it doesn't matter to them that others look up to their example. It's not a burden they are aware of, so they do their own thing--acting to impress and be cool in their confident put-downs. I was wondering if how I spoke to them showed God's love at all, and I thought about what I could do the next time if it happened again as I prayed that they would understand the love of God in their lives so they wouldn't feel the need to act in the way that they did.

I didn't have the opportunity to speak with them again, but I'm so thankful that our school and our kids parents have taught them about God's love enough to encourage them to spread that message even to a stranger at the Wave.