by Gary Lamb
When I was a development director at an independent Waldorf school for eleven years, I also taught a four-week 12th grade course in comparative economics each year. Occasionally, I was also a guest teacher at other schools. Before teaching a course, I tried to learn as much as possible about the class, which usually meant speaking with at least one of their teachers, reading their school reports, and observing a class or two.
As a visiting teacher at other schools, this was more difficult, and in the case to be described, not possible at all. Even so, the beginning of the course went well, except for one student, a boy I will call James. While James was attentive and engaged during class, showing a natural aptitude for economics, he never completed any of the out-of-class assignments. He liked to rest on his talents, as the saying goes, of which he had plenty. But he had no will to follow through with anything that required personal effort.
I normally gave little or no homework, but there were some reading assignments and projects that required collaboration with other students outside of class hours that were essential for the course. When it was time to hand in an assignment or give a progress report, he never had anything to submit or to offer. He always assured me in friendly manner that something was forthcoming the next day, but it never happened.
I was perplexed. He obviously enjoyed the subject matter and, as far as I could tell, respected me as a teacher. When I questioned him about the situation, he spoke in guarded terms and provided no reason for his lack of performance other than that he “didn’t get to it”.
About half way through the course, the high school faculty invited me to one of their meetings to give a report on how things were going with the class. I confessed to them my dilemma with James. They were not surprised, and were somewhat apologetic that there had not been time to speak to me in advance about him. They all were experiencing the same situation, and questioned whether he would graduate with his class.
While he had been a good student before, this year his family and home life had become very difficult. As a result, James was emotionally challenged and without parental supervision most of the time.
Although this was not good news, it was helpful for me personally to hear that it wasn’t just a problem in my class. I decided to meditate on James each night, reviewing his actions and behavior to see if an inspiration would come. After a few days, a strong image clearly arose of how to address him.
I knew that I had to respond to his failure to follow through on agreements by speaking directly to his higher being out of the trust that lived between us. My higher self had to speak directly to his.
The next day, an assignment was due. When I asked him for his, he gave his usual answer that it would be forthcoming the next day. I then went and stood directly in front of him, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “Man to man, do you promise you will hand in the assignment tomorrow?” The room went silent. Everyone was listening. He let out a little “Oof,” paused for a moment, and then said, “You really mean it, don’t you?” “Yes”, I said. Another pause. More silence. I could feel an inner battle taking place in his soul. I knew I had to stay with the experience, and not waver. “OK, I will do it and hand it in tomorrow.” I reached out to him and we shook hands, adult to adult, human to human, man to man.
He did hand in his assignment the following day, and the others that were due later in the course were completed and handed in on time.