7th Grade Lesson
February 8, 2012
"Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray."
The wisdom spoken in Proverbs 22: 6 will be lived out in person and in truth on Saturday as Joyce Zeh's 7th grade class from Greenville, North Carolina, gathers to re-acquaint with one another, many of them for the first time since they were together in 1957, and celebrate the blessings of their time with one extraordinary teacher who made a difference in their lives.
It is likely that most of us can remember certain teachers, their gifts, their encouragements and challenges. We likely remember field trips and particularities of sayings... like Mrs. Claybrook's "through one ear and out the other and out the window." I still don't know exactly what she meant, but the fact that I even remember it must mean something.
I can name the names of those whose lives touched mine in the classroom, from the first grade, Mrs. Paige, to the 12th with Mrs. Little. But I was never in a classroom that had as much impact on students as did Joyce Zeh's in the 1957 class of seventh graders of which my husband, Tom, was a student.
Pitt County had received a grant, some initiative to select a class with certain qualities, academics was surely a part, but probably not the only part. They were to study with a master teacher.... enter Joyce Zeh. The richness of this classroom experience went to things academic and beyond to the arts, oratory, talent shows. There were kind lessons of integrity, honesty, accountability, taught in ways that inspired at least one student I know and love to solidify his own code of ethics that he has lived without doubt his entire life.
And if that weren't enough, the class operated a store that sold apples during recess and lunch time. Besides teaching practical lessons in economics, the sales produced enough profit, that at the end of the school year, Mrs. Zeh and her fun-loving husband, John, took the entire class to White Lake, a well known vacation spot around a pristine spring-fed lake, for an entire week of fun-in-the-sun with class mates.
The seventh grade is a challenging year for most students. Growing up is getting real and the moving into young adulthood is often awkward to say the least. Having a teacher committed to bringing out the best in a student, willing to mentor, eager to challenge, and at the same time seeing and calling forth the potential that is hidden in each young person, is a blessing that cannot always be quantified. Many times a teacher sows, and never reaps the harvest, if he or she even sees the crop.
For over 30 years I heard, admittedly with some envy, about this wonderful classroom experience and the blessing of this extraordinary 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Zeh. Then the most amazing thing happened. We moved to Raleigh in 1984 and joined Hayed Barton United Methodist Church in February of that year. The day we stood before the congregation and were welcomed into the church, we returned to our pew. In a few minutes someone tapped Tom on the shoulder. It was a note written on the bulletin: "Are you the same Tom Campbell I taught in the 7th grade? Joyce Zeh."
Tom turned around and there she was, this teacher he so loved. Blonde and beautiful as ever. As it turns out, she lives right around the corner from us and has for the past 30 years. Talk about serendipity!
This coming Saturday, Joyce Zeh's 1957 Seventh Grade Class will gather at our house for their first reunion ever. About 40 class members and spouses will be here to give thanks to Mrs. Zeh who touched their lives in blessing. This class has indeed grown up in right and good ways. Some are teachers, professors, or principals themselves, some professional musical conductors and musicians, some are doctors, many of them have written books. And their is one excellent broadcaster - the man I live with and love - who will be especially glad to have this time with classmates and Mrs. Zeh. It will be a time of celebration and remembering with thanksgiving the gift of the extraordinary teachers among us.
You are out there, you exceptional teachers (my sister included... her husband too). We may never have a gathering to thank you and bless you for the ways you trained us up. But know that the harvest is good. There are many around who forever will thank you in their hearts and ways. Lessons learned. Thanks be to God!