Teacher opened eyes to learning’s true reward

Do you remember your fifth-grade report card? Fifth grade takes me back to my first “man teacher” and a classroom at the base of the stairs.

At the end of each nine weeks, Mr. DeMuzio passed out the report cards. We were to take them unopened to our parents who would review them, discuss the results with us and sign them. The whole process scared the geewillikers out of most of us.

Every class had students who wanted to “make the grade,” those who didn’t care, and others in between. It seemed to me there were some who sensed they’d fallen so far behind that there was no point in trying anymore.

Some religions teach that when a person fails in life they get a do-over (i.e., reincarnation). Other religions hold that, after a final exam (i.e., Judgment Day), God will hand out spiritual/moral report cards. Many don’t like to think about that. Others reject the idea of judgment and believe that the Heavenly Principal will give everyone — including the kid in the seat behind them who always cheated on quizzes and shot spitballs at the clock — a passing grade.

As I keep relearning my life lessons, it helps me to think of Mr. DeMuzio. Prior to my fifth year, school was something I endured. I had no concept of its ultimate purpose or personal benefit. I learned my numbers, letters, syllables, vowel sounds, and U.S. geography, but they remained disconnected facts jumbling around in my brain.

Fifth grade changed that. In Mr. DeMuzio, I met the soul of learning. Under his tutelage I became a reader. Books have taken me to incredible places, real and imagined. I memorized my multiplication tables and was freed from calculator dependency. I learned the state and national capitals, some of which I would visit later. There was something different about how he worked with us. He saw something in the orneriest of us that could be claimed, integrated and redeemed.

I am thinking lately that making the grade in life is less about comparing myself to others or achieving some arbitrary standard and more about knowing God and letting His view of things inspire me. “For God so loved the world that he … did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). In his last great prayer for us, Jesus wrote the point of life in big letters on the universe’s blackboard: “This is Eternal Life — that they (you and me) may know you (God) and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Fifty years beyond fifth grade, I still trust God because instead of grading me on the curve, He curved himself into the human life of His Son. If I stick with his class I’ll be sure to get a passing grade.

Russel Jarvis has lived in Hancock County since 1989 and has served as the lead chaplain at Hancock Regional Hospital since August 2003. He enjoys golf, old movies, reading and celebrating life with his wife and children. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.