Thursday, August 30, 2012

Remember the Important Thing

Remember the Important Thing

My very first year of teaching brought me a lesson that became very valuable to me as a parent. 

I was teaching 7th and 8th grade math.  I was part of a group of eight junior high teachers and four “specials,” as we called them. "Specials" taught art, PE and music. 
It was conference time. 
At this school Parent teacher conferences were held in the gym.  The teachers sat at tables around the edge of the basketball court and chairs for parents were lined up in the middle. There were no set appointments because each student had a different teacher for every subject. Parents waited for an opening with the person they wanted to talk to and then could move on to another. 
It was all very efficient.

Well, after many conferences the evening was winding down and I’d had no parents for about 15 minutes. One of the moms sitting and waiting for another teacher came over and sat down to chat. I introduced myself and it turned out that I didn’t have her son in my class. I’d heard about him though.

Soon this Mom began to open up about her son’s teachers and the school. 

She expressed in no uncertain terms her displeasure. 
All involved with her child were idiots who were trying to push her kid around. They’d done the same thing with her older boy. All the things her sons had been accused of were someone else’s fault. 
She’d been down to see the principal several times this year to make sure he knew about his teachers’ stupidity. 
Now she was planning to go to the school board to tell them of the principal’s stupidity. They should all be fired. Her husband felt the same way.

Well, I was new at this parent teacher conference thing, but I was very glad that I didn’t have this particular boy in my class. 

Sensing trouble on the horizon I tried to make small talk on a more neutral topic. I mentioned that I lived in the area and had a child starting at the same high school where her older boy must be attending. I asked about her older son to see if he might know mine or be trying out for the same teams. Anything to steer the conversation in a more positive direction. 
I’ll never forget her answer.

She glanced over to see if there was an opening at the next “idiot” teacher’s table and said, “Oh, he wouldn’t know him. My son quit. He doesn’t go to school anymore.”

I was speechless for a bit and then grateful as she left to see the next idiot. 

Food for thought, to be sure. 
So I began to think. 
This poor young man had been taught powerful lessons about education by his parents. 
His entire life would be affected by what he learned from them. How he spends a huge chunk of his time each day, the people he associates with, the type of home he lives in, the car he drives, where he goes on vacation, what he can provide for his own family will all be influenced. 

As I sadly thought about this young man I began to get concerned about my own family. 
What should my husband’s and my attitude be on this subject with our own kids? 
Well, I finally decided that our attitude should be something quite shocking.
It's that the teacher and the school are always right. 

Now, being a teacher myself I knew very well that the teacher and the school are certainly not always right. 
I myself, was usually wrong at least once before lunch every day. 
But I decided that it was important to our children’s future that they think that their parents were solidly behind the school….pretty much no matter what.

Education would be a top priority in our family. 

If we had issues with teachers or the school we would deal with it without the kids knowing about it. 
I wanted them to believe that even though some teachers will be more skilled than others, they could learn something from all of them. In fact, it was their job to do exactly that. 
It was their important job and responsibility to complete all requirements and to get credit for every class. 
If there were problems they should deal with it. 

A while later I got some feedback on how we were doing with this policy. 
On the way home from school one afternoon two daughters were complaining about a teacher and the unfair policies in his class. 
From the back seat one child asked me if I agreed. Before I could answer, the other one said, “Never mind…with her the teacher is always right!” 

Now I knew perfectly well that the teacher isn’t always right, but my heart went “Woo Hoo!” anyway.

I think it’s crucial for parents to remember something here. 

It’s the old, “It’s important to keep the important thing the important thing.” 
That's the principle that’s at the heart of this parenting issue. 
You see, I don’t have an eternal relationship with the teacher, the school or the principal. It’s not important for me to be “right” when dealing with them. They’ll come and go as the years pass. 
I do have an eternal relationship with my children however. 
I know that an education and completing school will make a difference in their lives in countless ways.

The prophets have told us how important this issue is to all of us. I believe them.
I also believe a parent’s attitude toward school is one thing that may make a huge difference, maybe even for generations to come.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Life That Touched For Good

I’ve been thinking about the words to that lovely hymn we sing called, “Each Life That Touches Ours For Good.” 
Those thoughts keep rolling through my mind because a man who lived an extraordinary life just completed his earthly mission a short while ago. 
I don’t usually name names in my scribblings, but this time I will. His name was President Lewis Tenney. He was a Stake President and later a Temple President but much more than that for those who knew him. In my case, I noticed right after meeting him that he had an amazing quality. 
Each and every time our paths crossed, even if only briefly, somehow I was blessed.

You see, I am a raggedy old convert, which President Tenney knew…. and he was…..well…..President Tenney. He was an honorable, stalwart, valiant leader in the Church and one of the most respected men in all of northern Arizona. He and his dear wife Mary raised a large and exemplary family. Yet somehow that great man managed to bless me every time we met.

May I share a little incident or two to show you what I mean?

Once I was asked to speak at a large meeting of Relief Society sisters in Show Low, Arizona. Now, you must understand that the mountain towns and their surroundings are full of amazing LDS women. Many of the sisters who live up there have ancestors who came west pulling handcarts and it was truly puzzling to me as to why they wanted to hear anything I might have to say. I was nervous and felt completely inadequate.

On the day of the conference I put on my best dress and my daughter and I headed for Show Low. As we proceeded along Highway 260 I noticed a spot on the very front of my white top, so we stopped at Circle K to get a wet napkin to try to clean it. I took the napkin and began to rub the spot, not noticing that I was rubbing the ink from “Circle K” which was printed on the napkin, right into the cloth. I ended up with a big purple stain on the front of my dress. Nothing could be done now.

I sat up front with the rest of the speakers, including President Tenney, and nervously waited my turn. When my turn came I felt I really needed to explain the spot, so I told them, and added my reservations about being included with the others who were speaking that day. I pointed out that every other woman on the stand was impeccably put together and, in addition, had a waist, unlike myself. Also, I said with special anxiety, there sits President Tenney. I then gave my talk.

When it was time for President Tenney to speak he began with the most remarkable words. He said,  “Sister Wagher has inspired me to tell you something that I don’t share with many people.” (Me? Inspire him? How could that be?) Then he continued as I remember, saying something like the following. “Once I was in a similar situation,” he began. “I had a day crammed full of important Church meetings and had to travel many miles between them. I hurried from one meeting  to the next and was rushing to get into my truck when I heard my pants rip. I couldn’t tell by the sound how bad the situation was and due to my tight schedule I started off without investigating the rip. While driving, I decided to lean over to try to see if I could “get away” with these pants or if I had to go home to change them. As I was leaning over I drove off the road and had a minor accident. To make matters worse, when someone asked me later what made me drive off the road, (was it an elk or a deer?),  I said due to embarrassment, 'I don’t know.' It was just too hard to admit the truth.”

The audience chuckled at this dear man but I was touched to my very soul. 

A person such as this with a rip in his pants and a fib to boot! Admitting it to the whole world! I couldn’t believe that someone so far along in the teachings of the gospel, someone with such a long list of accomplishments, could ever feel like I did. 
I felt blessed by President Tenney’s candor that day with something special. I’ve looked for the exact word to describe that blessing. I think I’ve found it. 
The word is encouraged.

Another memory involves a time we were at Girl’s Camp. I was called as a Mutual teacher but had never had the smallest experience with camp. I was not only a raggedy convert but also a city slicker. Here we were digging fire pits to bury vats of food to dig up hours later for dinner, rubbing sticks together to make a fire and doing all kinds of choppings of wood, and stirrings of cast iron spider pans and other weird things. I was out of my element and covered with poison oak on top of it all.

One afternoon,  President Tenney and I were left to tend several pots of meat and gravy while the girls and other leaders went off to do something. He was sitting on a table watching the fire carefully as I clumsily removed each cast iron lid and stirred the contents as I had been told to do. As I lifted one lid, a gust of wind brought a shower of ashes to land in the gravy bubbling in the pot.
I looked up in horror at President Tenney. 
What an idiot he must think I am! He can see that I know nothing about anything and now I’ve ruined dinner for half the girls! 
He looked at me with a smile and said “Sister Wagher, if you just stir those ashes right into the gravy no one will know and I won’t tell.” 
The look on his face was priceless. It said …..“You’re going to be alright. You can learn this. It’s OK to make mistakes.” 
 I gratefully began to stir and then to marvel. The Stake President wasn’t shocked at my ignorance! He somehow understood. I really could do better someday. I could do better with lots of things someday! There it was again. 
I was encouraged.

Encouraged. Strengthened. Understood. And accepted anyway. These were all blessings I received from knowing President Tenney. I know there must be thousands of other people who benefited from his remarkable life.

His dear, sweet wife Mary has a broken heart today. The only true comfort will come when she is able to hold him in her arms, alive and well, once more. Thanks to the atonement and resurrection of the Savior this will surely happen. Christ has blessed the Tenneys with unending love and the assurance that their family will endure beyond time. 

Only for now their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will miss their father and grandfather terribly, as will the rest of his wonderful family and many friends. Not forever. 
I hope they know that hundreds of prayers for peace and comfort are being sent to Father on their behalf, and that love comes to each of them from all over the state. 
How special they must be to be able to claim such a man as their own.

President Lewis Tenney’s life was surely one that touched others for good. Generations to come will bless his name as he blessed those he crossed paths with every day. I will always be grateful to have known him.