erin ahnfeldt

Listening to Life

Aoloni stepped into the classroom crying. Her eyes were red, filled with pain, and her cheeks glistened with tears.

She was right in front of me before I could think.

“Can I go to the bathroom?” she asked. Fourth period was about to start. Students brushed past us, headed to their seats, and I stepped a little closer.

“I’m sorry, Aoloni,” I whispered. “Sure. Go ahead.” As quickly as she came, she was gone, disappearing into the river of people.

More kids rushed into class, trying to beat the bell, and I turned to my student teacher, Elly. We made eye contact with sad faces, silently acknowledging Aoloni’s tears.

Elly is a senior at UCCS. She’s passionate about becoming a teacher, but on Fridays, she attends college classes instead of being with us. That’s why Christian, a student, shouted one Friday, “Oh man, she’s the best part of this class!” Ouch! I knew what he meant, though. There’s a brightness in her, and I know the source. Even more than the kids, she loves the God calling her to teach. That brightness isn’t from her; it’s from Him.

The bell rang, and class began.

I waited for some quiet and smiled.

“Good afternoon students!” I shouted.

A few students offered “Good afternoons” or half-hearted smiles. And then Mason muttered with a smirk, “Technically, it’s still morning, Mr. Ahnfeldt.”

It was 11:42 am.

We were reading Of Mice and Men. Aiden and Kori helped pass out copies to their classmates, and different students took turns reading aloud. We got maybe 2 pages into it when Aoloni slipped back into the room, still wiping her eyes with toilet paper.

A few students watched her sit down, silently feeling her heaviness. We kept reading, and I handed her a book. The class talked about Steinbeck’s use of imagery and did some more reading, but after about 20 minutes, we needed a change.

“I’ve got something else I want you to read,” I said.

I had skimmed through stacks of my students’ paragraphs, written a couple of weeks before, and found one I liked. Copies of it had been sitting on my desk for a week, waiting for me to finally pass them out. Elly and I blocked out the student’s name when we made the copies, so nobody could identify the author. The problem was I couldn’t even identify the author. I forgot.

Passing them out the day before in a different class, Solomon asked me, “Mr. Ahnfeldt, who wrote this?” His bright smile worked at unlocking the hidden truth.

“I can’t tell you,” I said, smiling back. It clearly felt to him like some sly evasion, but the truth was I really couldn’t tell him because I didn’t know.

The plan was to divide the students into partners and have them talk about why the paragraph was so good.

Once the talking started, Elly and I walked around the room. We watched Aoloni closely, and for whatever reason, a little spark twinkled in her eyes. She and Elysia leaned over the paragraph. Then I saw it.

Aoloni was smiling!

“Okay, everyone, let’s talk about what you found!” I shouted over the hum of conversation. People looked up at me and started raising their hands. Will’s hand went up first.

“Go ahead Will.”

“She had some great details to prove her point.” He must’ve guessed, based on the handwriting, the author was a girl.

“Good! Yes, she definitely did a great job supporting her points.”

There were more hands. I watched to see if students were tracking. Aoloni’s eyes were on me like a cat’s fixed on one of those red laser dots.

Kori’s hand was up in the back.

“Jump in, Kori,” I said.

“I like the way she asks questions to get us thinking.”

Aoloni’s smile playfully tumbled into shy giggles.

That’s when it hit me—Is this paragraph hers? The thought filled me with wonder.

“Great point, Kori!” I shouted, and as I said that, I smiled at Aoloni. She looked down at her desk, trying in vain to hold back the explosion of delight.

More hands went up with more life-giving comments, and each time, Aoloni’s face brightened.

“I’ll take those paragraphs back,” I shouted. Kids passed up their copies, and with time running out, I looked at Elly and saw a smile growing on her face, too. She walked up to me as students unzipped backpacks.

“I think this paragraph is Aoloni’s,” she whispered.

I nodded, still reeling from the wonder of it all.

“Elly,” I whispered back, “God does this all the time.” I was pointing at the copies of Aoloni’s paragraph still in my hand. “There is no way we could’ve planned this!”

My classroom doesn’t have any windows, but that morning it was pretty clear, the real Teacher in room 212 wanted to let in a little sunlight. He wanted to show the student teacher exactly what makes that classroom such a special place.

Leaning on the wood podium in the front of the room, I waited for the zippers and side conversations to stop. With one minute left, there was quiet.

“Let’s give a big round of applause for—” I stopped mid-sentence, acting like I was coughing up a lung. “aahhughh. . .Aoloni. . . ahem. . .” Some students laughed, others looked over at Aoloni, but everyone clapped. The room erupted with applause and smiles, and the one smiling brightest was the same girl who, ninety minutes before, walked into room 212 crying.

If you’ve been reading these blogs for a while, hopefully you’ve noticed the hero is never me. I couldn’t even remember who wrote Aoloni’s paragraph. How could I possibly time a celebration of something she wrote with a storm in her life? There’s no way! But I do know the Author of her story and of mine. He wrote out a lesson plan I could never create for a young lady whose broken heart mattered to Him. He put that paragraph in front of me, and He knew the exact day when talking about it would mean the most. It’s obvious. The real Teacher in that classroom isn’t me; it’s Him.

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