"The more a child is valued, the better his values will be." Amish Proverb
The kitchen timer on the teacher's large wooden desk in the center of the classroom is ticking away. It's 9:25 on a warm, sunny April morning. Twenty-seven Amish children are quietly cleaning the tops of their desks, putting their books inside. A few are whipping off their socks and shoes, trying to beat the buzzer.
The buzzer finally goes off. Recess! The children waste no time hurrying to the storage room to get lunch snacks out of their small igloo containers, plus a ball, bat, and a few gloves. All but two boys with mournful looks on their faces. Their names are written on the chalkboard under the label "Do Over." These two are stuck inside for recess.
Anna, the nineteen-year-old schoolteacher, explains that these two boys often put off their work, and it is time they learn to correct the habit of procrastination. "They're smart boys," Anna whispers. She points to the tall one. "He's the smartest one in the class. But he can be lazy." Anna is wearing a traditional Amish collarless dress, lavender colored, with a cape covering her shoulders, and black socks. No shoes!
Outside, a few of the young boys head to the far end of the field to toss a ball back and forth, but most of the children play a game of softball. A batter hits balls to the fielders, and positions are rotated as a batter gets to base. The outfielders back way up when Ruthie, a redheaded, athletic teenager, takes a turn at bat. And they come way in—way, way in—when Katie, a tiny first grader in a dusty plum dress, goes to bat. After Anna has made sure the Do Over Boys are hard at work, she puts on her sneakers and heads outside to take a turn as pitcher. The excitement level on the field rises a few notches, especially when Anna is up to bat, but no one eggs on the batters or the fielders. There is no argument or disputes over strikes or foul balls, only encouraging calls.
The fifteen-minute recess ends when Anna rings the school bell. A few students stop to get a drink of water from the old-fashioned pump, but their entry into the schoolhouse is orderly and prompt, and quiet soon fills the room. Anna gives a nod and a student leads the children, single file, to the back of the room to grab a hymnbook. One by one, they march up to the front of the class and form three rows, the tallest children in the back.
They sing three hymns. Anna allows the Do Over Boys to pick the hymns. They look considerably happier now. The first hymn is the recognizable "Give Me Roses While I Live." Anna's clear tenor leads the children through the songs without benefit of a piano. The second song, "Rose of Sharon," is sung in four-part harmony, a cappella. The third song, "Rose of Calvary," is also sung in four-part harmony. The children sing in English. Although Amish children speak Pennsylvania Dutch in their homes, they learn English in school. Even on the playground, the children speak English.
This is Anna's first year as a teacher. She replaced another teacher who had taught for three years but had trouble getting obedience out of the scholars. "The girls were especially difficult," Anna says. "Girls can be hard." The classroom has fourteen girls, mostly older, though only one wears a prayer cap. Girls don't wear caps until they are in eighth grade, Anna says. She is very soft-spoken with the children, and they mind her well. She says it took months of consistency and clear expectations before the classroom operated as efficiently and cooperatively as it does now. "All fall, I could only say I had a job," she says. "Now, I can say I love it. And I do. I really do."
Anna glances in the direction of the Do Over Boys, whose heads are bowed over their desk, working away on their arithmetic. She erases their names off the chalkboard and smiles.
About Suzanne Woods Fisher: She is an author of bestselling fiction and
non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish. Why the Amish? Well, Suzanne's
grandfather was raised Plain. She's always been fascinated by her gentle,
wise relatives. Learn more about Suzanne, her books, and Amish Wisdom, her
weekly radio show, by stopping by www.suzannewoodsfisher.com. Please subscribe to this blog and consider leaving a comment!
This story is reprinted from "Amish Values for Your Family" with permission from Revell Books.